LINWOOD — Fifth-graders at Belhaven Middle School cheered across the lunchroom as the school winners in the annual Species on the Edge art and essay competition were announced Jan. 29.
For more than a dozen years, Belhaven has participated in the statewide competition, which according to science teacher Bonnie Marino attracts more than 2,800 entries from across New Jersey.
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The overall winner was Christina Htay, who submitted an essay and a sketch of bald eagles. Htay said she researched bald eagle habitats and learned a great deal about them. She said she was fascinated to learn that not so long ago their numbers had dropped dramatically in New Jersey, but their population is slowly increasing.
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As part of the preparation for the contest, environmentalist Junetta Dix of Linwood spends a day with each of the fifth-grade classes. She teaches the students about endangered animals that live in New Jersey and their habitats, including environmental factors that are a threat to the animals or their habitat, such as overdevelopment, pesticides, rising sea level and other factors.
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The students choose an animal or species and research it. They must draw the animal and write an essay in which they pretend to be the animal, and try to convince the reader why the animal needs protection and what people can do to help save it.
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Marino said the competition fits into the district's push for increased science, technology, engineering, arts and math education and is aligned with the Common Core and NextGen science standards.
Benjamin Christodoulou recieved the people’s choice award, chosen by the students.
The essay contest winners were Daniel Tracy, first; Marlee Campbell, second; and Mazi Salartash, third.
The art contest winners were Shelby Streno, first; Kamisiyochukwn Nwotite, second; and Arianna Ferrin, third.
All of the winning entries go on to the state level, with those winners to be announced later this year. Belhaven's winning students are also invited to biologist-led field trips.
Belhaven has had some recent wins in the statewide competition.
Kelly Glenn, who is now attending Colgate University, won in 2010 for her essay and drawing of black skimmers.
“I had always grown up loving the outdoors, but being in the contest exposed me to a variety of endangered species in my own backyard,” Glenn in the January 2018 edition of NJEA Magazine. She said her trip to Sedge Island after winning the competition got her involved in the environment and influenced her decision to choose environmental studies as a major.
In 2017 Ethan Mitnick of Linwood took first place. His drawing of a diamondback terrapin graces the cover of the 2018 Conserve Wildlife Species Edge calendar.
Dix, who has been spending a day teaching fifth-grade students about New Jersey endangered species for more than a decade, said she enjoys working with the kids and giving back to the community each year.