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disney youth summit earth day Christy Rijo, seventh-grade student and Robert O'Donnell, science teacher at Christa McAuliffe School PS 28, were honored as Disney Planet Challenge 2011-2012 grand prize winners for "Project Reservoir." (Photo courtesy Topanga Sena)

Kids Honored for Green Projects

Planet Challenge winners celebrated at Disney World

By Topanga Sena | April 19 , 2012

The Walt Disney Company began its Earth Day celebrations with an event at Walt Disney World that honored kids who have helped the environment.

The Disney Friends for Change Youth Summit was held on April 14 and was part of the company's Disney Kids and Nature Celebration. It was hosted by Disney Channel stars Debbie Ryan (Jessie), Bella Thorne and Zendaya (Shake It Up), Ross Lynch and Laura Marano (Austin & Ally).

The Youth Summit was a day devoted to celebrating the winners of the Disney Channel's Planet Challenge. An awards ceremony at Epcot's American Gardens Theatre honored Brickett Elementary's fifth-grade class from Lynn, Massachusetts, for its project "Think Before You Idle" and Christa McAuliffe School–PS 28's seventh-grade class from Jersey City, New Jersey, for its "Project Reservoir."

Project Reservoir was designed, implemented, and maintained by the students. It's focused on the student's efforts to help revitalize and transform an abandoned local reservoir into a first class, state-recognized recreation and education center.

"We identified our local reservoir within our community that was abandoned and no one really utilized it and its been that way for 25 years or so," said Robert O'Donnell, the school's seventh-grade science teacher. "So my class began a campaign to basically increase community awareness and get to the point where one day every kid within the city in a public school or a private school can actually go there on a field trip and learn about the environment, biology, and chemistry."

The efforts of the students have made a real impact on their community, and their passion continues through their hard work to connect to nature.

"We added cattails, which are native to the reservoir, and we are also planning to breed a species of frogs, Spring Peepers, so it could help lower the mosquito population in the reservoir," said seventh-grader Christy Rijo.

After the award ceremony, the group of more than 100 kids moved to the World Showcase, an indoor venue at Epcot, to hear Craig Kielburger speak on how kids can make a difference. Kielburger founded Free the Children, an organization dedicated to halting global child labor, when he was 12 years old. Kielburger emphasized that every individual has a gift that can make the world a better place.

After a break for lunch with music and games hosted by Ernie D. and the Radio Disney Road Crew, the kids were divided into groups, each led by a Disney Channel star. The group sessions were meant to inspire kids to think of creative ideas and solutions that they can take home and put into action in their own communities. Through a series of panels, workshops and discussions, youth leaders between the ages of 10-18 were encouraged to imagine the planet's future and discuss conservation efforts to generate positive changes in the world.

"Anything you can do will benefit the world," Ross Lynch, star of Disney's Austin & Ally told Scholastic News Press Corps. "And you can do it, and it all starts with one person."

To learn more about how you can help your community and join Friends for Change, log on to Disney.com/friends. And to read more about Disney Planet Challenge 2011-2012 grand-prize winners for "Project Reservoir" log on to projectreservoir.weebly.com.

EARTH DAY 2012

Celebrate Earth Day and the fight to keep our planet clean on April 22. Scholastic Kid Reporters explore ways to make every day Earth Day in the Earth Day 2012 Special Report.

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