How do you educate the public about climate change’s effect on the San Joaquin Valley, and do so with only $100,000?

That was the challenge presented to the 10 teams of high school students taking part in the Junior Achievement of Northern California’s Social Innovation Camp that took place at the University of Phoenix, North Fresno Campus in March.

Kingsburg High students taking part in the challenge wound up placing in the top three teams, their economics teacher, Dina Siebenaler, said. Those teams won cash prizes.

Siebenaler took 16 students to the camp hosted by PG&E and said her ultimate goal was to help them realize just how much they are capable of accomplishing.

“They worked with students they had only met 30 minutes prior, came up with a plan to address issues related to climate concerns in the San Joaquin Valley, dealt with a limited budget to create their program, created a slideshow with graphics and chose who would present what aspect of their plan to a panel of judges, students and teacher-chaperones,” she said. "And they did all this in four hours."

The students broke into teams with one participant from each of the 10 schools and were first given a team-building challenge to kick off the camp. Then they were presented with a flash drive containing their challenge. Working in classrooms at the university, each team had access to computers, an overhead projector and a whiteboard to tackle a project.

“The challenge was how to educate the public about the effects of climate change,” Siebenaler said. “They were asked to design their response around needs in the San Joaquin Valley and confine their business model to a $100,000 grant.”

The students came up with ideas such as matching-grant social networking challenges, PSAs and even recycling programs targeting elementary schools. The students then created PowerPoint presentations to explain their ideas before a panel of judges. Those judges were PG&E mentors and business professionals.

Siebenaler said she described the format of the camp as somewhat like “Shark Tank,” the television show where entrepreneurs pitch their business to a panel of millionaires.

“It was a great experience for the students and they definitely learned a lot about public speaking, working collaboratively with students from other schools, and researching a difficult social issue in order to inspire our community to make changes,” she said.

Noelia Avila said her team focused on the drought issue. They came up with an app that could monitor, in real time, a home’s water consumption so families could be aware of their day-to-day use.

“I enjoyed how we were treated as adults to make the choices about our project. I also enjoyed that our group was independent to make our own decisions,” Avila said. “I learned that it’s difficult to put yourself out there in a situation where you don’t know anyone beside people at your school. I also learned how important it is to work with everyone in your group, even if it is sometimes difficult to agree on the direction of the project.”

Second-place winner Kevin Henderson said his team proposed an education campaign which included an app to teach elementary school children about the drought in the San Joaquin Valley and the need to conserve water.

“The thing that I liked best about the JA Social Innovation Camp was getting to work on something that could actually make a difference. I learned that I can meet new people and immediately jump into a project. I had never done that before,” he said. “Our teams did not have the comfort of knowing someone for a long time. We had to get to work right away. It was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I think that was good. If we never get pushed out of our comfort zone, we never grow.”

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