Fifth Grades’ Owl Project Wins First Place at Santa Cruz Earth Day

Give A Hoot, Don’t Pollute: It’s Foul to Hurt the Burrowing Owl ,” a project of the fifth grade class at Mount Madonna School (MMS) won First Place in the environmental Class Challenge at the Santa Cruz Earth Day celebration on April 21.

“I really enjoyed talking to everyone about our project because it was great to share about how threatened and endangered the burrowing owl is,” comments fifth grader Ella Connor. “Multiple people said they would tell others about our project and the owl. I think it was a shock to many people about how much we did and how endangered the owl is.”

Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane presented the class with an oversized $300 check for their First Place finish. Monarch Community School won Second Place and Bayview Elementary, Third Place.

“Saturday was a bit hard because I am shy, “ shares fifth grader Stevie Ray Genske, “but it was really nice that people listened to me about our project, and seemed to learn a lot from us. Also, it was really exciting to win First Prize and go up to receive the big check in front of everyone!”

The fifth graders took turns hosting their booth at the annual San Lorenzo Park event, and spoke knowledgably to the public about their project. Their display included two computers showing the humorous and educational movie they created, students’ science posters showing the results of native plants’ affects on soil pollutants, their Struve Slough clean-up data, original artwork, research boards and reports. Students also displayed the response letters they received from various government officials, and the self-docent signs they created for the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society.

Fifth grader Eleanor Harrington says the class’ service project earlier this school year, helped her to feel connected to the burrowing owl and their ecosystem. “Seeing an owl in the wild at the Fitz Wetlands Resource Center and planting native grasslands really helped me understand their connection and the importance of preserving the grasslands,” she explains.

In addition to the cash award, the students’ project will be displayed at the Santa Cruz Natural History Museum from April 30 through May 16. The museum will host a reception for the students’ friends and families at 4:30 pm on the May 16.

“I think it was important to get the message out to the public about saving a species,” says fifth grader John Anthony Dias. “People were interested and wanted more information on how to help.”

Under the guidance of teachers and project mentors Jessica Cambell and the late Sri Gyan James McCaughan, the class spent significant time this school year studying the Western Burrowing Owl and looking at ways they can help save this threatened bird. The teachers said their project goals included providing opportunities for students to discover their academic gifts; and helping them to understand the difference between achieving and learning, consumer and citizen, by observing and being involved in their communities to positively impact the environmental issue of their choice.

In addition to the Santa Cruz Earth Day win, the class learned last month that their project won First Place in California in the Disney “Planet Challenge,” which included a $1,000 cash prize for Mount Madonna School, and gift packs for each student.

“As a teacher it is a great experience to watch students embrace their project and the curriculum so deeply that they can speak to others intelligently and with passion,” comments fifth grade teacher Jessica Cambell. “Many adults approached me about how well-spoken, knowledgeable and persuasive the children were when speaking about their project. I love the Earth Day event because the students learn to interact with the public, receive positive feedback for their work, and see that they are changing the world.”


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Marketing & Communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.





Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing & communications,


Nestled among the redwoods on 380 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a diverse learning community dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believes a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The program, accredited by the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) and Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.

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