Since 2014, Mackintosh Academy middle school students have participated in the World Affairs Challenge (WAC). Each spring, our seventh and eighth grade students work in teams to research and design sustainable solutions to global issues, and then present their solutions as part of a competition that includes students from Colorado and around the world. In April 2022, six Mackintosh Academy teams competed in the WAC. One Mack team, the “WACademia Nuts,” won third place for their project addressing the decline in Colorado’s population of bats.
The WAC is open to middle and high school students from across the globe who work in teams to create innovative solutions. As part of this competition, students consult with subject matter experts to learn about the root causes of a specific global issue, and how it impacts communities. They then design solutions to address the problem and implement community service projects to contribute toward solving the issue. On WAC Event day, student teams present their work to a panel of judges for feedback and scoring. They also take a Global Quiz to assess their knowledge of world issues.
In the week leading into spring break, our Mackintosh middle school students completed and submitted their video presentation on the global issues they had researched. A panel of volunteer judges reviewed these videos and then conducted Zoom interviews with each team. The WACadamia Nuts took third place in the competition for their project focusing on bat conservation. This group investigated the impact of disease, climate change, habitat shift, and human interaction upon the at-risk bat population. As their service project, they built two bat houses to place in local areas to help provide more roosting sites for bats. Their project video is available for viewing here.
The other Mackintosh teams participating in the competition were:
- We’re WAC in Business -This team investigated how climate change affects indigeous populations in Alaska who are having to relocate. Their service included student design artwork (sculpture, watercolor, and digital downloads) to help raise money for those forced to relocate.
- The WAC Meisters – This group researched how kelp farms can help mitigate ocean acidification due to climate change, which is increasing the oceans’ dead spots. They baked cookies and breads with kelp-derived products to have a fundraiser to support organizations that are researching and using kelp farms for environmental support.
- WACamarines – This team examined how lionfish, an invasive species, are affecting Florida’s coral reefs and the surrounding ecosystem. They planned a recycled boat raingutter regatta to raise funds for lionfish mitigation groups.
- Project Chomolungma – This group delved into a dirty topic – the waste that is left by tourist climbers in the Khumbu Valley, where. Mount Everest (Chomolungma) is found. They made handmade soap to sell to the Mack community to support an organization within the Khumbu region that works to clean up the waste.
- WACxolotls – This group studied axolotls, an endangered species whose home habitat is Lake Xochimilco in Mexico. The water availability for the lake and Mexico City is at a crisis level, greatly affecting the people, habitat and the animals that live within it. The team created plush lovey dolls in the form of the axolotls and sold them to community members to raise funds for an organization working with farmers near Lake Xochimilco to improve environmental conditions.
All of the students worked hard to research their chosen issue, interview experts in the field, synthesize the information into a presentation, and create a service project to address the issue. Mackintosh middle school teacher Joe Pausback recognized the value of the experience for all students, saying, “As a teacher, guiding students through WAC feels sort of like driving a big bus down a steep hill and midway down throwing the steering wheel out the window and then watching what happens. From start to finish each project grows organically and as a teacher my role becomes facilitation. Each group winds up in their own unique place with their own challenges and needs. For me the first week or two is hard getting the students to connect with each other and get moving in the same direction. The best moment usually happens about two weeks in, when each group finally is connected and vested in their project and no longer needs teacher guidance to remain on task. I also love when the students start setting up and conducting their interviews. Another challenging part is keeping up with the expectations from the World Affairs Challenge administration. They have a schedule for when they need certain discrete tasks completed from each group and getting all the pieces down at the right time takes focus and finesse. For some reason this year, the due dates always seemed to come a little before the students were really ready for them.”
Kelly Kates, Mackintosh performing arts teacher and student service coordinator, also supported WAC students. She reflected, “Since it was the first time working with WAC for me, I was really excited about the students having the opportunity to address real world problems and to really have an impact, It was inspiring to hear about all of the different projects. It also gave me the opportunity to see our students in a different light as they were so professional while interviewing different people for their projects. Also, during the collaborative question, I got to sit in on all of the interviews with the judges. I took great pride in the fact that every team was told their video was one of the most creative the judges had seen – and I think having 4 of the top 10 teams reflects that.”
The World Affairs Challenge was founded in 2010 as part of what is now the Joseph Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. The WAC started as a community outreach program to educate students and teachers about global issues. WAC is merging with World Denver, another nonprofit organization that works “to strengthen and expand the community of engaged global citizens and organizations in Colorado through education, cross-cultural exchange, and personal interaction.” Both WAC and World Denver align with Mackintosh Academy’s mission as an International Baccalaureate school that aims to empower students to make a difference in the world.