Kids play big role in project's success

Posted: Tuesday, January 27, 2004

For going on 14 years now, the Caring for the Kenai program has sought to solve environmental problems by tapping into one of the peninsula's most valuable renewable resources: kids.

On Wednesday, CFK representatives gave an update on the program to the Kenai Chamber of Commerce. Part pep talk, part pat on the back, the speakers touted the program's long history of success and urged chamber members to continue what has been a unique and successful partnership between business groups, area schools and community volunteers.

"Things don't happen in other places like they do here on the Kenai," said CFK manager Merrill Sikorski, who has been with the program since its inception.

Sikorski said that because Kenai is lucky enough to have businesses like Agrium and Unocal the program's primary sponsors in town, programs like Caring for the Kenai are able to flourish here like nowhere else.

He pointed to the fact that area high school students have received awards from likes of the president of the United States and the Envi-ronmental Protection Agency as proof that Caring for the Kenai is helping turn out students who are interested in both science and a healthy environment.

"Our kids are the best," Sikorski said.

Following Sikorski at the podium was Rick Frederic, science coordinator with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. As a former science teacher at Nikiski Middle-Senior High School, Frederic has seen firsthand the positive impact the program has on area youth. He said Caring for the Kenai is successful because it challenges students to creatively solve problems they might not otherwise worry about.

"Students will rise to the challenge if we present them with the incentive," Frederic said.

That incentive comes in the form of cash prizes doled out each year to 12 finalists from area high schools whose CFK projects come closest to answering the question, "What can I do, invent or create to better care for the environment on the Kenai Peninsula, or to improve the area's preparedness for a natural disaster?"

Over the years, students' answers to that question have varied widely, from new twists on recycling programs to last year's winning idea for a decommissioned oil platform that creates energy by utilizing tidal and wind generators.

That idea, which came from Frederic's own daughter, Kristen, earned a cash award of $1,500. In addition to the prizes given to finalists, Sikorski told the chamber that more than $10,000 also is given to school science programs for participating in the program, something that can come in mighty handy in an era of tight budgets and education cuts.

"Talk to any teacher, that helps to buy a lot of things," Sikorski said.

Although the support of local industry helps foot the bill for much of the program, Sikorski said there always is the opportunity for any business or individual to make a contribution whether financial or in-kind to help support it in the future.

"We all need to work together," he said.

According to Rick Frederic, the idea behind the whole project is to keep the entire community working together to ensure that great ideas continue to spring from the minds of the peninsula's next generation.

"It is truly a community process."

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