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Atlantic High team victorious n statewide Climate Challenge

The victorious Atlantic City High School Green Thumbs team.

  • Education

Atlantic City High School's Green Thumbs Team took top prize in the state Student Climate Challenge.

The eight-member team and their advisers, Emily Loeb and Renee Carfagno, received their award Thursday at the Governor's Mansion.

The four teams that reached the finals in the high school division submitted short digital story videos showcasing their projects to address a cause or impact of climate change in their school or community.

Atlantic City's team renovated a neglected greenhouse on the school’s second floor into a space to grow local produce.

This highlighted opportunities to source food locally out-of-season and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the many miles foods travel before reaching the consumer.

The team planted Romaine lettuce, peppers, basil and other herbs in hydroponics towers to grow food without direct sunlight. 

“I’m extremely proud of these young people,” said acting High School Principal Donald Harris. “They represent Atlantic City High School to the fullest. It just goes to show that Atlantic City High School is a very good school, one of the best in South Jersey."

Zeeshan Bakhtiar, the only junior on the team full of seniors, shot and edited the video, which serves as a mini-documentary of the restoration process. 

“I said we may not win, but I still put in the hard work,” Bakhtiar said. 

When he found out that Atlantic City was in the finals, he said he knew they had an opportunity to bring home the victory.

Aaron Simpson, a senior who plans to major in Environmental Science at Stockton University, built the hydroponics towers. 

“Getting to discover a new part of the building and seeing the plants grow was the most interesting part of the project,” he said.

    The hydroponics towers built by senior Aaron Simpson allowed the students to grow plants without direct sunlight.

“We had to grow everything in the greenhouse,” Hannah Frebowitz said. “But first we had to get the greenhouse back to functionality.” 

The winners were announced at a ceremony in Princeton at the Governor’s Mansion. 

Gov. Phil Murphy did not attend, but First Lady Tammy Snyder Murphy was on hand for the 


Founded in 1982, the Drumthwacket Foundation is a 501c.3. non-profit organization that 

functions in a non-partisan fashion. 

The Foundation’s mission is to increase a sense of pride in New Jersey by preserving the Drumthwacket property, which serves as the Governor’s Mansion, broadening access, furthering awareness and support of the Foundation and its activities. It also focuses on expanding civic understanding among New Jersey residents.

"Congratulations on the Green Thumbs Team award," said Drumthwacket Foundation Executive Director Robyn Brenner. "Judges for the Climate Change Challenge Contest scored submissions using a rubric, with points given for Storytelling, Core Science Ideas, Crosscutting Concepts, Team Reflection, etc. The submission forms completed by teachers/group advisors were also carefully weighed."

The foundation has partnered with Atlantic City Electric, Exelon, Sustainable Jersey and others to advance its cause. 

    The renovated greenhouse had not been used since 2019.

Atlantic City High School won a $3,500 grant to advance its climate education initiatives. 

The second-place winner was Clearview High School. The third-place winner was Penns Grove High School.

The team's advisers said visiting the Governor’s Mansion for the announcement also seemed a part of the prize. 

“It was an honor,” Carfagno said. 

“It was a little unexpected because it was a statewide competition," Loeb added. "But they put a lot of hard work in.”

The New Jersey Student Climate Challenge is open to all New Jersey public schools serving students in grades six to 12. Teachers can register to participate and integrate the program into their classroom or club activities. The program also offers educational sessions to spotlight local impacts of climate change, strategies to address them and success stories about what students are already accomplishing.

“I’m really impressed with them,” Loeb said of the Atlantic City team. “It gave them first-hand experience with what climate change has done in Atlantic City and in New Jersey.”

The team is Bakhtiar, Simpson, Frebowitz, Saif Naser, Maxwell Duerr, Devin Huynh, Nadeefa Nur and Sophia Mammucari.

Sunday, June 16, 2024
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