This past November, three GATE students from Shaler Area High School got a perfect score on a project that they created for the Fairchild Challenge.
The Fairchild Challenge began in 2008 in Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami, and was brought to Pittsburgh through Phipps Conservatory as a partner. Phipps hopes that through this challenge, students will be encouraged to create something for the good of the community and let their creative talents show.
“The Fairchild Challenge is a free, multidisciplinary, standards-based environmental education outreach program designed to give high school and middle school students an opportunity to creatively shine… the Challenge invites students to investigate the thorniest environmental issues, devise imaginative and effective responses to these issues, and take action to address them,” the Fairchild Challenge website says.
The challenge was to create a children’s book no longer than 15 pages that featured a nature site from the author’s hometown. The students chose to write their story on the Millvale Trail, and included paintings of Shaler in their book.
Juniors Rosie Paras and Allie Evans, along with sophomore Emily Kelly, collaborated and entered their book, “Missy’s Rainstorm”, into the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps Conservatory.
“Missy’s Rainstorm,” illustrates a young girl and her adventures through nature in her red rain boots, which took place by the Millvale Trail.
“I guess the inspiration came from the Millvale Trail,” Kelly said. “ We sat down at lunch and we just had a brainstorm day and it was raining…we chose it mainly because Allie and I walk it a lot. Eventually, a friend and I went down to take pictures and it was perfect because it had rained that day too.”
Paras, Evans, and Kelly were presented with the challenge to inspire children to go outside and spend time away from electronics. They were required to write and illustrate a 15 page children’s book that exposed children to the wonders of going out into nature, while making sure they do not focus on environmental issues.
“There are puddles everywhere. She sees water drip from the bridges, she sees frogs,” Allie said in a November 28th article written for the Tribune Review. “We were incorporating how nature interacts with the weather and how the trail also interacts with the weather.”
The students hoped to encourage children to be active in discovery, and to look a little closer at the environment they live in.
“I hope that they learn to appreciate the little things in nature that we see everyday and don’t pay much mind to. There’s a lot of intriguing things we don’t normally notice unless we look closer.” Paras said.
After developing ideas, the students began to work on the book. Rosie and Allie were able to develop the story, while Emily sketched and painted all of the illustrations. It took countless hours on everyone’s parts.
“It took around 30 hours for seventeen pages,” said Kelly
The students were able to achieve a perfect score of 200, an accomplishment that has never been done before by students in the competition. The book was judged by experts from Chatham University, Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse, Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators and Tree Pittsburgh.
“Ms. Palladino has been working on the Fairchild Challenge for longer than I have, but this is my fifth year working with it and I have never seen a perfect score. We’ve achieved really good scores; we’ve won it four out of the last five years, but never a perfect score,” said GATE teacher Mrs. Kathleen Elder.
Shaler finished first, North Allegheny second, and Ringgold third for this particular challenge. It was the first perfect score that anyone has seen for a long time. The judges found nothing to criticize.
”Missy’s Rainstorm” is a true stunner. The artist is sophisticated with her reflection of the text,” one panelist said.
Other panelists mentioned the book’s use of calligraphy, and style while inspiring children to explore outdoors as one reason it was awarded 1st place.
Paras, Evans, and Kelly were able to share their book by reading it to several groups of children at Phipps Botanical Gardens. They spent the day at the gardens, doing two separate readings to around 30 young kids.
From here, the girls hope to publish their book, and share it with as many people as possible.
“Knowing that it was our original work and that we worked on it together was the most rewarding thing to come out of this experience for me. Even though it was stressful, the work payed off and it was actually notable [for the judges],” Paras said. “I was actually really surprised because we weren’t expecting [to win.]. But overall, [I] was really proud of what we did.”