Navajo Prep students compete in final round of Lexus Eco Challenge

Group could win as much as $50,000 for school

Megan Petersen
Farmington Daily Times
Students Sky Harper, left, Keona Hosteen, Xander Jones, Miauaxochitl Haskie and teacher Yolanda Flores look over the components for a solar project for the Lexus Eco Challenge on Wednesday at Navajo Prepatory School in Farmington.
  • The Navajo Prep team already has advanced through two rounds, earning $20,000 in prize money and an invitation to compete in the final round.
  • Other projects include a study of Animas River water quality and a methane emissions detection study.
  • Only 16 teams from around the U.S. are invited to participate in the third and final challenge.

FARMINGTON — Navajo Preparatory School students in the gifted and talented science program will send their final project off to the Lexus Eco Challenge this week in an invitation-only STEM competition that could bring in as much as $50,000 for the school.

Four sophomores and a junior in Navajo Prep science teacher Yolanda Flores’ after-school group already have earned $20,000 for themselves and their school in the first two rounds of the competition. The Lexus Echo challenge, which is sponsored by Scholastic Inc., asks students to study environmental issues relating to air, climate, land and water, according to the website.

The team — consisting of junior Xander Jones and sophomores Sky Harper, Miauaxochitl Haskie, Keona Hosteen, and Kaylin McLiverty — advanced through the first round in January and the second round in February. The final-round project is due Monday, and the champions will be notified on March 18.

The students’ latest project is a solar-powered heating and cooling system that the group saw a need for in rural and poor communities across the globe, and in their own lives, McLiverty said. The group has been testing the effectiveness of the project in the school’s on-campus hogan, a traditional Navajo dwelling.

Students Keona Hosteen, left, Sky Harper and Miauaxochitl Haskie work on their solar panel project on Wednesday at Navajo Prep in Farmington.

“This part of the challenge is for global needs, or what we feel like we should solve globally,” McLiverty said outside the hogan on Wednesday. “We have hogans on the reservation, and they don’t have heating or cooling systems a majority of the time, and there’s also other poor communities that will have these needs, that don’t have the luxury of heating and cooling systems, too, so our main goal is to find an alternative way for heating and cooling that doesn’t use water.”

The students also completed two other extracurricular projects in the competition over the course of the school year.

They made it through the first round with a land and water project that examined the toxicity of the Animas River during and after the Gold King Mine spill in 2015. The group found lingering effects on water quality and on invertebrates, resulting in a "fair" water quality rating, according to a press release from Flores.

Sky Harper, right, assists Xander Jones with soldering wires for a solar panel project on Wednesday at Navajo Prep in Farmington.

“This indicates that the water is still unsafe at this point,” the press release states. “Water supplies falling into the fair range are only able to support low diversity of aquatic life, and thus, the Animas River at present is experiencing some problems with pollution.”

Their second-round project, which focused on air and climate, involved methane emissions in the Four Corners. The group designed and built a methane detector and visited several sites throughout the region to track methane emissions. They found the highest rate of emissions near Mexican Hat, Utah, which is home to a large sewer, according to the release.

Navajo Prep’s team has earned $20,000 so far for its participation in the project. The 16 teams that advanced through the first two rounds each won $10,000 per round, with $7,000 being split evenly between team members, $1,000 going to the team adviser and $2,000 going to the team’s school, according to the challenge website.

Student Xander Jones works on a computer while testing his group's solar panel project on Wednesday at Navajo Prep in Farmington.

Many of the students said they are saving their prize money for college, and Flores said she will purchase a spectrometer and other equipment for her classroom with her share of the prize money.

The group also could win an additional $30,000 if its solar heating and cooling system is chosen as the top high school project. The students also have a chance at one of four first-place prizes in the high school category, which would garner them $15,000, according to the challenge website.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or