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Mescalero Apache School wins STEM contest

Teacher Nate Raynor and students from Mescalero Apache School created an aquaponics system as part of their STEM program; it was state winner in a national program to boost interest in STEM. (Ruidoso News)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s Mescalero Apache School has been named state winner in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest because of its “unique solution to inspire change.”

The nationwide competition is designed to spark enthusiasm in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects by encouraging teachers and students to solve community issues with STEM skills, organizers said in a news release.

The winning project aimed to address food insecurity on the reservation; it was submitted by Nate Raynor, a teacher at Mescalero Apache School, and his students.bright spot

Each state winner receives $20,000 in technology and a Samsung kit to create a video to showcase each project. Subsequent winners then can advance to the next phase, and win additional prizes and educational opportunities.

The Mescalero Apache School problem is as follows: “In Native American communities, particularly those located on rural reservations, elderly tribal members are more likely to live in poverty and therefore lack access to healthy foods.”

To address the issue, they proposed building a solar-powered Aquaponic system to grow vegetables and to work with the tribal fish hatchery to stock trout to provide food for elderly people on the reservation.

“Food insecurity is a serious problem not only on Mescalero Apache Reservation, but other tribes throughout New Mexico,” student Shylo Cochise-Klinkole, project co-leader and vice president of the Mescalero Apache School STEM Group, told the Journal in an email.

“We are learning how to grow vegetables without the use of soil and non-renewable sources,” she said. “Aquaponic is the way to go and we hope to carry this ideal to other tribes in New Mexico.”

“Working with Mescalero Apache Fish Hatchery and, we have secured funding for a solar panel and now, with winning the Samsung state award, we can continue with our dreams of providing vegetables to Mescalero Apache elders,” Raynor said.

“Our STEM programs have grown in the past three years from 10 students to over 25 students to date,” he said, adding, “this is our second Samsung State award, our first … was to develop used cooking oil and turn it into biofuel.”

The school just outside Mescalero is between Ruidoso and Tularosa.

The 50 state winners will now compete to become one of 10 national finalists to attend a pitch event in the spring where they will present their projects to a panel of judges. For reaching that level, seven schools will receive a $50,000 Samsung technology package and the other three will progress to the national winner stage. The three national winners will each receive a $100,000 Samsung tech package.

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