Newark Students Create Sewer Guard to Reduce Pollution

By Michelle Sartor Lang
Senior Multimedia Web Producer

Oliver Street School S.T.E.M. Teacher James Intrabartolo, Luis DeSouza (eighth grade Oliver Street School student), Gabriel Margaca (seventh grade Oliver Street School student) and contest emcee Bill Rancic (winner of the first Apprentice), left to right, in Austin, Texas where students got to present their projects for the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest. Photo courtesy of Linda Blyth.

A group of 18 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at Oliver Street Elementary School in Newark have come up with a plan to prevent garbage from entering the local sewer system and waterways. The proposal, called Guarding the Water Supply, has earned the students praise from teachers and administrators, as well as Samsung officials. The group is one of 15 finalists in the nationwide Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest, which challenges students to apply S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) techniques to solve problems in their communities.

The project has been in the works at Oliver Street School since the fall when Principal Douglas Petty sent teacher James Intrabartolo an email describing the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest and encouraging him to apply. Intrabartolo said he asked students the same question Samsung was posing for the contest — show how S.T.E.M. could help improve the local community.

“Overwhelmingly the children had a problem with the trash and pollution on the streets that winds up in our waterways,” Intrabartolo said. “We brainstormed and we decided we were going to try to figure out, using the design process, how we could ultimately keep trash from getting into the sewer system. We created a new sewer guard to do that.”

Intrabartolo explained that Newark has issues with its water system after heavy rain. “Basically when there’s too much water in the system after a storm, the water never makes it to the water treatment facility. It spews garbage directly into the river. We identified through blueprints which we got from the Division of Water and Sewer where those overflow pipes were. We took a trip down to the Passaic River so the kids could actually see where this was occurring. That helped us to come up with the design plan,” he said. “What the children really noticed was after a rain storm, the garbage was basically clogging up the sewer design that’s there now and we wanted to find a way to keep that from getting in there and causing floods and other problems in the town.”

Intrabartolo submitted the plan to Samsung and as the group progressed in the competition, they started to create their invention. The students took measurements of the sewer and then went to the computer lab to use Google SketchUp, a computer aided design program.

“We came up with two different models that the students were able to test and assess which one gave the best results. And that’s how we chose the winning product, which is actually featured in the video [the students produced],” he said. “There’s two separate ideas that the students had come up with using Google SketchUp. From there, we put it into real life.”

The Oliver Street students were named the winners in New Jersey for their project and then out of the 50 state winners, were named in the top 15. Because of that distinction, two students and Intrabartolo got to visit Austin, Texas to present to Samsung March 2-4. Bill Rancic, the winner of the first edition of The Apprentice, served as the MC and the Newark group got to meet with competition judges and answer their questions.

The students hope their design will be used beyond Newark, since Intrabartolo said the sewer guard can be used in any town or city. “It is my students’ goal to see this implemented not only locally but globally,” Intrabartolo said. “Right now Samsung owns the rights to our design. But that’s something we would definitely want to look into a little further once they’ve declared a winner. My students have high aspirations.”

The Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest is in its fourth year. Bree Falato, program manager, corporate social responsibility for Samsung, explained the contest “began to help address a critical S.T.E.M. skills gap in the U.S. as well as help to bridge the digital divide. The goal is to make S.T.E.M. interesting by engaging students through community-based learning which takes kids out of the traditional classroom setting and asks them to apply S.T.E.M. to address a real-world problem in their community.”

During the 2011-2012 season, Jefferson Township Middle School in Oak Ridge made it to the finals of the contest and was one of five grand prize winners.

Intrabartolo hopes his students get that same distinction. The public gets to vote for their favorite project online. That period ends March 14, after which five top prize winners will be declared and get to visit Washington, D.C. The top five schools will receive $140,000 worth of technology.

“We’ve already accomplished the goal of close to $55,000 worth of technology for the school for as far as we’ve come,” Intrabartolo said. “It is great. We need it.”

After the contest concludes, the prizes will be distributed. Falato said the top five schools receive a short list of Samsung products that they are able to choose from. “Although we can’t say for sure what will be on this year’s list, typically it offers one or two laptop models, Galaxy tabs, printers, touchscreen displays and monitors,” she said. “In addition to Samsung products, the top five schools also receive Adobe Premier Elements licenses and cash grants from both DIRECTV and Forbes.”

Newark education officials are very proud of the students for seeing the project through.

“It’s an honor from my standpoint as a principal that my teacher James and the students didn’t brush this off the desk. Nowadays with the high stakes testing and whatnot, teachers are very busy and held accountable,” Petty said. “And he grabbed this project with his students and ran with it. So it was my pleasure to support him in his journey with this project. We certainly look to continue with it and expand it at every possibility.”

Newark Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Mitchell Center said the endeavor has helped the students become better problem solvers. “The competition has uniquely inspired our students to apply 21st century technology to the problems facing the Passaic River, take responsibility as environmental stewards and learn the value of civic action,” he said. “Thanks to their great work, we have now reached the moment we were hoping for and are asking all of Newark to support our science and math students by voting.”

The public can vote for Oliver Street School’s Guarding the Water Supply project on the contest website. People can vote once per day through March 14.

UPDATE: Oliver Street School was named a top finalist in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest for the students’ sewer guard.