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High school students in Cambridge take on 'Glocal Challenge'

Posted by Brock Parker  January 31, 2013 04:36 PM

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Cambridge Rindge and Latin School students (from left to right) Daniel Manacher, Andreas Hoffman and Jonah Simon get some final pointers Wednesday on their Glocal Challenge project from their mentor, Miki Heller, a volunteer from the Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School. Photo by Brock Parker.

More than 75 students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School will square off in an environmental sustainability competition Friday that has drawn the attention of local politicians and Google.

The high school students are participating in the Glocal Challenge started by EF Education First that will send two winning teams to Costa Rica in April for a chance to meet former Vice President Al Gore.

For the past month, the students have been working on projects asking them to identify a local environmental issue, research how other countries have found solutions to the problem, and then design a way to address the issue locally.

Kate Berseth, executive vice president of EF Education First, said the pilot program is an effort to create an educational structure that school systems can use to ensure that students are learning how to understand and solve global issues.

“We have to position it in a way that is helping prepare them for college and a career,” Berseth said.

Google has signed on to sponsor one of the two winning teams, which will travel to Costa Rica for a week in April for the Global Student Leaders Summit. The winners will also present their Glocal Challenge plans to Gore, according to EF Education First, a for-profit company that offers academic classes and programs around the world and has its North American headquarters in Cambridge.

The 15 teams of five high school students will square off in a competition Friday at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School to see which environmental sustainability projects are the best.

The students will be judged by a panel that includes Cambridge Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Young, Google director of engineering Steve Vinter, Cambridge Mayor Henrietta Davis, and representatives from several educational institutions, including the Harvard Kennedy School.

Vinter said in an email Thursday that Google has been thrilled to be part of this initiative to enrich the Cambridge community with a fun project that helps students develop vital 21st century skills.

In judging the competition Friday, Vinter said he will be hoping to see creative new ways to approach environmental issues.

"It would be great to see solutions that could scale across different countries and geographies," Vinter said. "And of course, I’m hoping that the students were inspired through the process and take that learning into their future endeavors."

Google employees have been working with students on their projects, along with representatives from EF Education First, social media experts and Mayor Davis, who met with students to discuss local environmental issues.

After huddling in a dark classroom with his teammates practicing for their presentation this week, 18-year-old senior Daniel Manacher said the Challenge has given him a good opportunity to practice skills he wants pursue in a career of graphic design.

Manacher’s team is presenting a plan to create green roofs throughout the city by planting a form of grass on rooftops to improve the environment by reducing carbon dioxide levels. He’s used Photoshop to create slides showing what the city would look like with the green roofs.

His teammate Jonah Simon, a 17-year-old senior, said one of the motivations to participate in the Glocal Challenge was the hope that good ideas to help the environment would be implemented locally.

“I thought that this was a chance to make a difference,” Simon said.

Other teams will present plans to address everything from invasive plant species, to pollution, recycling misinformation, methane leaking and even paper and plastic use at the high school.

The students will begin making their presentations at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School at 9 a.m. Friday and the final four teams will square off at the school beginning at 1 p.m.

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