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Peekskill Students Shine at Wheelabrator Symposium

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Peekskill Middle School students were among 130 youth who came together to share their ideas on helping the environment at the 18th annual Wheelabrator Symposium for Environment and Education on April 30 to May 3 in Sunrise, Fla.

Through the symposium, middle school students representing New England, the mid-Atlantic and Florida commit to a six-month learning project, identifying an environmental challenge in their community and developing a long-term solution. Under the guidance of educators and Wheelabrator employees, students apply lessons learned in the classroom to real-life situations.

"The kids do research on their topic and then they develop a plan to look into it and then they put together a 20-minute presentation about their project," said Peekskill Teacher and Team Leader John Cooley.

Students tackled issues such as recycling, sustainable gardening and protecting endangered wildlife. The Peekskill team identified the need for water quality testing and watershed monitoring for several small watersheds that feed into the Hudson River in Peekskill Bay. They conducted watershed monitoring, not only through water testing, but also clean up and awareness.

"We chose the Hudson River watershed for our primary project but what the kids quickly realized once they started doing research is that the health of the Hudson River is really determined by the tributaries that flow into it," Cooley said.

The trip, including airfare and hotels, was sponsored and paid for by Wheelabrator of Westchester, which has been sponsoring Peekskill's team for the past 18 years.

Participating schools each received $500 in startup funds and will receive a $1,000 donation from Wheelabrator at the conclusion of the event. In addition, students can later qualify to earn a four-year scholarship through Wheelabrator’s partnership with Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn.

This will be Cooley's final year taking students to the symposium, as he is retiring from teaching after 34 years. Teachers Scott Tavone and Liz Damiano will replace him next year.

"I've found a couple of young teachers who are enthusiastic and environmentally minded and they apprenticed with us this year and went with us to Florida, so I'm happy I found somebody to carry on the legacy and give this opportunity to future generations of Peekskill students," Cooley said.

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