You've probably heard of the popular TV game show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
While I'm not sure about the school's fifth-graders, I can tell you I was outsmarted by a bunch of sixth- and eighth-graders at Ann A. Mullen Middle School one day this past week, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.
This group of students knew that orangutans are facing extinction. I did not—until I met with them for about an hour on Wednesday, that is.
This group of students also knew why orangutans are facing extinction. I, obviously, did not.
As part of the Philadelphia Zoo's UNLESS Contest to raise awareness about the destructive connection between palm oil and orangutans, a group of 13 Mullen students has dedicated itself to promoting the use of products that include sustainable palm oil.
Three sixth-grade students—Rashi Agrawal, Ashley Freeman and Katie Power—are designing a Wiki page, while their older peers—Rishabh Agrawal, Bailey Allmond, Kaitlin Bassi, Paige Dickinson, Briana Graves, Salvatore Macaro, Lydia Merachnik, Nick Murphy, Jeremy Wallace and Keith Washington—are putting together a video for the school's daily morning news program, Day Break.
The students visited the Philadelphia Zoo on Jan. 6 to learn about the plight of the orangutans.
Ask any of the 13 students about the dangers orangutans face and they'll be sure to tell you the following:
Orangutans are native to Malaysia and Indonesia, and they live in areas where palm trees rich in palm oil are found. Those trees are mainly cultivated to produce cooking oils.
Many companies have begun using only sustainable palm oils, produced from trees grown on plantations intended for their business-motivated cultivation.
Palm oil is found in chocolates, chewing gum, baby food, pet food, hair-care products, soap, makeup, candles, cleaning supplies ...
You get the point—palm oil is in most everything.
"We're just saying people should use the good palm oil," Rashi Agrawal said. "Don't boycott palm oil. Just use sustainable palm oil."
The eighth-grade students hope to convey the following message in their video, says Allmond: "You can save orangutans just by changing your grocery list. There are certain products that use sustainable palm oil."
Those "certain products" Allmond spoke of are produced by such member companies of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) as Avon, L'Oreal, Mars, Nestle, White Wave, Kelloggs, PepsiCo and Hershey. For a complete list of RSPO companies, visit the RSPO website or this Cheyenne Mountain Zoo website page.
In addition to the Day Break video, the Mullen students will be selling mini Hershey bars at four for $1 to students and faculty at the school to benefit a palm-oil/orangutan awareness campaign. The students will be distributing the RSPO shopping list from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo website as they sell the candy.
Kim Champion, a Mullen science teacher, noted the enthusiasm with which the students have attacked the project.
"They've been very, very thorough. They come to us all the time: 'We learned this.' 'We found this.' 'Can we use this?' ... It really has been one of those things that gives you goosebumps," she said.
Champion has partnered with Mullen communications technology instructor Patti McBride in supervising the Philadelphia Zoo contest.
McBride, the reigning Camden County Teacher of the Year, is confident the kids will produce a quality video.
"I'm sure it will turn out nice. They've been really particular about what they're going to include so they can capture the audience's attention," she said.
The Philadelphia Zoo UNLESS Contest now includes more than 290 schools in the Delaware Valley. The Mullen students are competing against peers in grades six through 12.
The students have until Feb. 29 to submit their video to the zoo, Champion said. The zoo will announce 20 finalists on March 19.
Check back with Gloucester Township Patch to check out the video, to get a link to the completed Wiki page and to find out how the students did in the competition.