RLHS Green team reaches finals in STEM Contest

Thursday, November 29, 2018
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Photo By Eleanor Guerrero
Kate Belinda and the Green Team: Left to Right: Bottom: Alice Fouts, Bailey Binando, Margot Kunz, MacKenna Shuck; 2nd Row: Anna Dye, Brooke Binando, Zoe Belinda, Ana Rubie, Maria Torgerson; 3rd Row: Barla Beaudoin, Emma Evenson; 4th Row: Ava Graham, Benazir Temiralieva, Jasper Poore, Treyton Koch, Sylvie Poore, Emmalia Sager; 5th Row: Kate Belinda. Not pictured: Lilly Fouts and Katie Jacobsen

By Eleanor Guerrero

CCN Senior Reporter


Kate Belinda is a force of nature to the students of Red Lodge High School (RLHS). She teaches environmental science, advanced biology and chemistry. She is the Green Team (Environmental Club) advisor and strives to instill awareness and confidence in her students.

Recently, RLHS and Belinda’s students were informed they are finalists in the Samsung Solve For Tomorrow (STEM) program. STEM stated: “We received thousands of impressive applications and are thrilled you have been selected as one of five finalists to represent your state!”

Solve for Tomorrow is “designed to boost interest and proficiency in Science, Technology Engineering and Math (STEM).” The nationwide contest challenges “public school teachers and students in grades 6-12 to show how STEM can be applied to help improve their local community.”

Belinda’s class was awarded a Samsung Tablet. Finalists now progress to Phase Two. 

 “It’s really the third year that the Green Team has qualified for the (STEM) finals,” she said. Win or lose, “We usually end up creating a project.” Nineteen of her students, Freshmen to Seniors, comprise the Green Team, “a real mix!”

Phase II of the contest states: “Please ID a specific problem that your school or the community is impacted by.” It must involve science, technology, engineering and math. 

Belinda considered the current community recycling dilemma. “Recycling has had a huge, huge impact” on both the high school and the community. The end of recycling, a real possibility recently with the scheduled closing of the local recycling center on Jan. 1, would pose a big problem for the townspeople.  In fact, she said, “Oh my gosh, now we don’t know what we’re going to do. As of Oct. 30 they picked up all our recycling bins. Super sad!” Recycling at RLHS had been an award winning Green Team project. “Focus on the community?” she said. “We’re already doing things. Perfect. We’re really worried about recycling.” 

This time, the Team decided the most challenging issue with community impact is plastics. RLHS is storing their aluminum cans and cardboard in anticipation that the community will work out recycling for a smooth transition in January. However, the community will not be taking any plastics. “Fifty billion plastic water bottles are used each year; only 23 percent are recycled.”

“That means more in the dumps, more in the watershed.” Foremost, Belinda decided, don’t contribute to the problem. The Team would design a plastic shredder. Asked how, she said, “I have no idea! The first round is done, now we need to develop an action plan.” They do not have to make it at this point. “We will meet and discuss it.” 

The Action Plan presents its own challenges. “How do you design the plant? What types of plastics are recyclable? How many bottles can be stored by crushing vs. shredding? How small does the shredding have to be for the next phase of technology?” she pondered. 

The Team will create one step in the process. Shredding will make used plastics ready for technology that exists or be likely to be developed in the future. “We will store it and have hope that the technology will come.” Ideally, they would not only store the school’s plastics but that of the whole community. Solving immediate problems while anticipating future innovations, “gives us hope!”

Belinda noted, “RLHS has been at the forefront of recyclability for the last five years. During the last two years the school has recycled 500 lbs. a month.

Belinda believes in project based “real world” learning. “Research shows that project-based learning allows students to be active participants from inception to implementation of real world issues.”

She added,  “There will be a time that plastic recycling will become an essential process because of its nonrenewable parent, oil.”

Not only will shredding provide for more storage, “it may also prepare single use plastic bottles for newly discovered fungi and bacteria to break down the plastic waste by increasing the surface area of the plastic,” says Belinda. “This idea will require science, technology, engineering and mathematics to design a prototype that will work with plastic products safely and produce a consistency of plastic that can be easily compressed and stored.”

Oddly, the biggest hurdle to her students’ success stated in the STEM application is not technical but human-a “fear of failure.” She states, “This fear affects their ability and willingness to try. This fear of failure is resulting in a generation of students that lack confidence and the willingness to engage in challenges and instead shuts down when things get tough.” 

As educators, Belinda believes, they “are tasked with creating learning environments that are safe but also push the boundaries of our students’ comfort and expands their experience and knowledge.”

Principal Ternan said, “Kate Belinda is an outstanding science teacher and her passion is contagious through her work as Advisor for the Environmental Green Team. 

Her positive attitude, love of students and her work in science education and student leadership are reflected in the outstanding quality of the programs she has maintained at our school.  As a result of her incredible influence on young people, RLHS students have achieved great success as environmental stewards with rewards that show in the number of academic scholarships and post-secondary success her students experience. Ms. Belinda has been recognized over numerous years from the Montana Governor’s Office for her continued quest to improve sustainability at RLHS.” In 2018, the Team won their third State SMART award, for Energy. 

Belinda earned her bachelor’s degree from Lake Forest College and Biology with a minor in Chemistry and Theater. She earned her Masters from MSU in Curriculum and Instruction. Prior to teaching, she was a Wildland Firefighter and Geographic Information Systems Specialist for the BLM and a biologist for Wyoming FG. Her experience brings “real world applications” into the classroom.  This is her ninth year at RLHS.

Belinda concludes, “Project based learning creates an environment where challenges are commonplace, and students must accept failure, regroup and move forward. This type of learning is a technique that can be implemented to help neutralize students’ fear of failure because obstacles are often encountered and must be dealt with before moving on.” 

She laughed about past failures. “We failed a lot! The wind turbine (a recent attempted project)-it was a hard thing. It became real personal to some. Did I give up? If that’s something I can teach kids-that things don’t always work out for you!”

Failing here “gets them ready for the real world,” said Belinda. “I think this is how I’m doing it. And it’s fun-because it’s a competition. It makes them excited. I get excited when they do!”

Belinda quoted environmentalist Baba Dioum: “For in the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”