Small Solution, Big Change

Students at Oliver Street School in New Jersey win the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest

April 25, 2014
Erich Schlegel/Invision for Samsung/AP Images

Newark Public Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson congratulates Oliver Street School's STEM students on their achievement.

Earth Day is held annually on April 22. It encourages Americans to organize events and initiatives to help improve the environment, both locally and nationally.

At Oliver Street School, in Newark, New Jersey, Earth Day celebrations began early this year. In March, a group of students from a 6th to 8th grade STEM class won the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest for creating a device to help reduce water pollution. After presenting their creation to a panel of judges, the class was awarded more than $140,000 in Samsung technology for their school. “It was an incredible experience,” Douglas Petty, Oliver Street School principal, told TFK. “I am really proud of these students.”

Oliver Street School students Luis DeSouza (left) and Gabriel Margaca (right) talk to contest master of ceremonies Bill Rancic.

Erich Schlegel/Invision for Samsung/AP Images
Oliver Street School students Luis DeSouza (left) and Gabriel Margaca (right) talk to contest master of ceremonies Bill Rancic.

STEM Solutions

The Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest began in 2009. Each year, the contest has a different theme or challenge. This year, Samsung asked students to develop a solution to a problem by applying the values of S.T.E.M.—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. “Students are judged on how they apply STEM to find creative ways to make an impact,” Ann Woo, director of Corporate Citizenship at Samsung Electronics America, told TFK. “The contest gets students thinking about how they can improve the world around them.”

At Oliver Street School, the students in James Intrabartolo’s STEM class decided to find a solution for a problem right outside their front door. “The first thing you need to do is look at a problem in your local community,” Luis DeSouza, an eighth-grader in Intrabartolo’s class told TFK. “What may seem like a small change can make a big impact.”

Making an Impact

After noticing trash collecting in a sewer near the school, the class was inspired to create a drain cover that stops garbage from entering the waterways that lead to the Passaic River. Using wooden panels attached to a large metal box, the cover is designed to capture and filter waste from the storm drains before it causes further water pollution. Students cut large holes into the top of the wooden panels, which lay flat over the sewer. When trash collects in the sewer grate, it falls through the holes and into the box, rather than into the waterway. “We wanted to create something simple but effective,” said seventh-grader Gabriel Margaca. “We knew it didn’t need to be extravagant, it just needed to do its job.”

After being notified that they were among 15 finalists in the competition, Intrabartolo’s class pitched their idea to a panel of judges at the South by Southwestern education conference in Austin, Texas. They followed their presentation with a video mapping out how they created the drain cover. The students explained how they identified a real-life problem without having to go far from home, and found a way to solve it. Oliver Street School was among five winners in the competition, taking home the grand prize of new technology for the school.

The STEM students hope to see their creation implemented in other communities, to help reduce water pollution nationwide.

To learn more about the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest, go to

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