Group advanced through three rounds of competition

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FARMINGTON — Navajo Preparatory School students were named 2017-18 first-place prize winners in the Lexus Eco Challenge this month.

The team of sophomores and juniors in the school's gifted and talented STEM program advanced through three rounds of the national STEM competition this year.

The Lexus Eco Competition is a three-part contest for sixth- through 12th-graders across the country, according to the competition website. Teams study and address environmental issues related to air, climate, land and water.

The team consists of sophomores Sky Harper, Miauaxochitl Haskie, Keona Hosteen and Kaylin McLiverty, and junior Xander Jones.

The Navajo Prep Flying Eagles advanced through the first two challenges with their project that studies the lingering effects of the Gold King Mine spill on the Animas River and their project that built and tested a methane emissions detector.

The group’s final project, which had the students design and build a solar-powered heating and cooling system, won one of four first-place prizes in the high school category. A team from Cleveland, Ohio, won this year’s high school grand prize for a community recycling project, according to the website.

The competition distributes $500,000 in scholarships for students, teachers and schools, according to the website.

Navajo Prep’s team collectively earned $35,000 in scholarships from the competition, with $24,000 going to student scholarships, $7,000 going to the school in general and $4,000 going to Yolanda Flores, the group’s adviser and Navajo Prep science teacher.

Flores said the school scholarships will go toward science lab equipment and classroom supplies, and students have agreed to save their scholarships for their college funds. Flores will use her scholarships, in part, to attend a STEM teacher training through the Goethe Institut's Transatlantic Outreach Program in Germany this summer.

Flores said the projects offered a unique experience for the students, adding that the school may look into patenting the team’s methane detector, and solar heating and cooling system.

“Students were able to apply all the scientific principles they have learned,” Flores said. “They were able to identify what are the existing environmental issues in their environment, and they are able to realize that these problems are really existing when they went to those places. It’s good to have a classroom, but I think outside (field) experience is better.”

The students agreed. Hosteen said the experience allowed her and her teammates to explore parts of the Navajo Nation they had never visited before and to develop bonds over months of devoting after-school hours of research and experimentation to the projects.

“For all of these three projects, we learned from each other and put everything we know together,” Hosteen said. “We grew on each other."

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.

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