Plymouth Whitemarsh High School (PWHS) students recently presented creative solutions to world problems as part of a new competitive activity known as Open Minds. Seven teams looked at the United Nation's 17 Sustainable Development Goals that include issues like poverty, hunger, peace, education and the environment. Each group then researched a related real-world problem and developed an action plan for how the problem could be addressed.
"It's such a great opportunity for so many students to get together, work on projects and just bond," said Genevieve Evans, a junior on the Operation Pond Scum team. "And it opens your mind. You get to think of ideas and solutions, and it just makes you feel like you're really part of something bigger."
The PWHS students explored bullying, renewable energies, algae, recycling and even roadkill. After three weeks of work, the teams shared their proposals in front of friends, family and a panel of judges in the high school cafeteria.
"They've really thought through how things would work. They came up with some non-traditional approaches," said Don Coleman, judge for the competition, writer for Make: magazine and Director of Consulting for Chariot Solutions. "I really like the passion they put into this and how they came together to work as good teams."
Partnering with LaSalle University
The PWHS Open Minds Competition is patterned after a three-year old program at LaSalle University that was designed to give college students the opportunity to experience what's known as the "innovation life cycle."
"We all have great ideas, but learning how to take those ideas and make them actionable -- and understanding what makes those projects successful -- is something that has to be experienced," said Steve Melick, founder of LaSalle University Open Minds and Executive Director of the LaSalle Center for Entrepreneurship. "And we were able to bring that to Plymouth Whitemarsh tonight."
In addition to developing the Open Minds competition for the high school level, LaSalle University students also served as mentors for the teams.
Colonial as a state leader for STEAM
PWHS is the first high school to partner with LaSalle for Open Minds, and it's Colonial School District's history as an early adopter of STEAM opportunities like this that drew the attention of the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
"It's pretty cool to see the energy in the room tonight. The students look excited. The parents look excited. The teachers look excited. So we're excited to be here," said Judd Pittman, Special Consultant to the Secretary of Education on STEM and judge for the PWHS Open Minds event. "This is exactly what the department is looking for in a K-12 to post secondary partnership."
While the Inviting Inclusive Action team and their proposal for a K-12 anti-bullying program was selected as the winner of the inaugural competition, the judges had high praise for all of the teams involved.
"The energy of students is contagious, and you can't help but feel hopeful after talking to these kids," added Melick. "They want to do good themselves. They want to do good for others, and based on what we saw here tonight, that's going to happen."
Getting involved in Open Minds
Plymouth Whitemarsh High School plans to hold more Open Minds competitions in the future. For more information or to get involved, please click here to email Sara Frey, Instructional Media Specialist at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School.