La Habra middle schoolers earn national recognition in environmental challenge

Seven middle schoolers from La Habra have earned honors in a national contest that challenged teams of students to tackle environmental issues — and develop practical solutions

Cyana Arce, Jessica Emerson, Tannya Gallegos, Yuko Jackson, Janelle Martinez, Emmanuel Ruiz and Kendra Wise from Washington Middle School in the La Habra City School District were recognized along with seven other middle school teams in this year’s Lexus Eco ChallengeThe STEM contest, which emphasizes critical thinking and research, is annually open to students in grades six through 12.

Washington Middle School students and their teacher

Meet the WMS Tree Titans. Led by their teacher, Dr. Susan Pritchard, seven students from La Habra’s Washington Middle School earned honors in the Lexus Eco Challenge after developing a master plan for replacing trees and caring for them.

The local squad, dubbed the WMS Tree Titans, was in fact the only team from California to win top honors after coming up with a multitiered plan to replace a number of campus trees that were lost to drought and other factors. 

Led by their teacher, Dr. Susan Pritchard, the La Habra students created a PSA on the importance of trees and how to care for them. They worked with the district’s technology department to take aerial photos, creating before-and-after shots showing what their amphitheater will look like with trees and drip irrigation systems. They held fundraisers and collaborated with school district officials, Rotary Club representatives and even state Assembly member Cristina Garcia. And they learned how to properly plant trees, installing more than 20 in the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area.

The students, who have been meeting in the mornings and at lunch, are continuing to raise the $10,000 needed for the amphitheater restoration, Pritchard said.

“I am beyond proud,” she told the OCDE Newsroom. “It takes a great deal of time, but look, this is our future. Our students are what California will be, so let’s make it a fabulous California for everyone.”

The WMS Tree Titans submitted their project in the Lexus Eco Challenge’s Land and Water category, but the contest also has a separate Air and Climate Challenge, as well as a Final Challenge that’s open to winners of the two other challenges.

Along with advancing to the Final Challenge, Pritchard’s students submitted an application for the Air and Climate Challenge. Turns out they’ve got another plan to bring renewable energy to their campus, and they’ve even adopted a separate team name — the WMS Wind Wolves.