Brookline middle school students win top prize in environmental video contest

The pair of seventh graders made a video on the impact of improper waste disposal.

Two middle schoolers from Brookline won a first place prize in a global video contest on environmental sustainability.

Devin Sullivan and Kai-Yu Zhang, both seventh graders at Edith C. Baker School in Chestnut Hill, were among the big winners in this year’s “World of 7 Billion” contest. The task: Make a short video on one of three global challenges affected by population growth.

Sullivan and Zhang chose to address the challenge of sustaining water systems by examining the impact of improper waste disposal. Their video states that most plastic labeled for recycling ends up in landfill, which contaminates groundwater and oceans worldwide. It proposes more local recycling centers and stricter laws on pollution as potential solutions.

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Sullivan, the narrator of the video, said she and Zhang teamed up to make the video as an optional assignment from their social studies teacher.

“I didn’t know anything about waste disposal or water pollution,” Sullivan said. “It was pretty eye-opening for me.”

After collaborating on the script — Sullivan focused on the problems with plastic waste while Zhang came up with some solutions — Sullivan hopped into an impromptu recording booth installed by the school’s new librarian. They put the video together on a web-based editing platform using a library of pre-existing footage.

Devin Sullivan and Kai-Yu Zhang. —Courtesy

The due date for submissions was at the end of February, a few weeks before schools closed in Massachusetts because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sullivan said working on the project made her more aware of pollution in her own community. She recalled recently walking to school and noticing a giant piece of Styrofoam; whereas before she might have ignored it, she made sure to pick it up and put it in the recycling bin.

“Even thought it might end up in the landfill,” Sullivan said.

Prizes were awarded by age and topic. A first-place prize in the middle-school division granted $500 to Sullivan and Zhang, who beat out over 5,000 other students from across the world. Sullivan said she wants the money to fund some sort of community project — a garden at her school, for example — but that she needs to consult with her partner first.

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The contest is organized each school year by Population Education, a program that develops curricula on human population and its impact on environment and society.

“We all just need to keep learning and keep being the best we can be in terms of being environmentally friendly,” Sullivan said. “And I’d like to give a shout-out to my teachers.”

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