Manitowoc County school fair explores 'Food in America'

Ray Mueller
Alayna Peterson's exhibit on Seed Saving was chosen as the Best of Show at what proved to be the last social studies fair for students at St. Gregory Catholic School in St. Nazianz.

ST. NAZIANZ - From seeds to outer space, fourth to eighth grade students at St. Gregory Catholic School at St. Nazianz in Manitowoc County explored many aspects of food at the annual contest and fair which supplements their social studies classes.

Fourteen students competed in the event held in the school gymnasium. In addition to the displays which included photos, computer-printed text, maps, and other related materials, each student made an oral presentation to one of the three judges.

The three judges were Amanda Kudick, a seventh and eighth grade mathematics teacher at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic school in Manitowoc, Sister Marcolette Madden of the department of education at Silver Lake College in Manitowoc, and Steve Schmitz, the At Risk program teacher at the middle and high schools in Kiel.

The program started with the judges inspecting the displays without the students being present. Then the parents, grandparents, other relatives, and friends of the entrants were given 30 minutes to visit the displays. The oral presentations to the judges followed.

In addition to the individual exhibits, there were special displays provided by the social studies classes. The topics included eating with chopsticks, the costs of meals by ingredient, Johnny Appleseed, particular foods that states are known for, and hunger problems in Chicago.

Food in America theme

This year's theme — “Food in America” — was selected and announced shortly before the Christmas vacation by the school's social science teacher Patty Wilhelm. She noted that research on Wikipedia was prohibited for the project nor were parents allowed to act as contributors to the displays.

Because there is no local public library, most of the students relied on online sources. Some of the students were already familiar with the topic they chose while others indicated that they knew very little about it before they began their research.

Although the fair entries did not factor in the grades for their classes, Wilhelm explained that what the students learned in classes, such as writing, mathematics, and use of computers, was necessary to create the displays. In addition, students were asked to provide a “faith connection” or scriptural reference to accompany their display. Most of them did so.

Topics of exhibits

For his display titled “Order Up,” fourth grader Andrick Lira described the menus and other aspects of the Two Amigos restaurant, which features Hispanic foods, that his family operates on Michigan Avenue in Sheboygan.

In addition, Lira created a graph of the 19 responses on food type preferences that he received from schoolmates. The preferences included American, Italian, Mexican, and French but no one chose Chinese from the list they were given.

Fifth grader Mason Schneider wanted to know what astronauts eat during their extended missions in space. While he didn't find great differences from what's eaten on earth, he learned that certain nutritional guidelines are provided and food that would leave crumbs is not allowed because of how the crumbs would interfere with the operation of the equipment.

To augment his display, Schneider went to Google maps to download photos taken inside the International space station. His table also featured an offering of Tang drinks, which are popular choices for space travel.

Wisconsin agriculture

Sawyer Pitz, also in fifth grade, tracked the history of the dairy sector in Wisconsin. He found historical data and photos on cheese plant and farm equipment websites.

Because of its importance in the ration for dairy cows, he also set up a video showing the steps in making corn silage.

Topics of displays by fourth graders were the changes in the history of farm plows by Cody Joas and the peanut butter and jelly sandwich by Kayla Peterson. Fifth grader Derick Lira's entry was White House state dinners.

Sixth grader Jessica Hruby traced the nearly 60 year history of the food service for the elderly now titled Meals on Wheels. Displays by seventh grade students were goat raising and meat by Ethan Joas and a description of French cuisine by Zen Bonde.

Displays by eighth grade students included data on Wisconsin's major crops (corn, soybeans, and winter wheat) by Tim Hruby, the 50 plus year history of the federal food program now formally known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by Miranda Schneider, and the pros and cons of “Farm to Table” food connections by Isaac Egan.

Judging results

After completing their inspection of the displays and hear the oral presentations, the three judges tallied their scores and found they had only a difference of a few points between the top three for the event's Best of Show award.

Because only one judge had been present for each oral presentation, the group decided to recall eighth graders Alayna Peterson and Julia Pitz so that all three judges could hear their presentations. In effect, this served as a tie-breaker.

Pitz had outlined the benefits of grass-fed beef, including the entire cycle of animal and human health and environmental effects. Her presentation also featured a video and a set of questions with four possible answers on the amounts of calories, protein, fats, and sodium per ounce of grass-fed beef.

Peterson, who won the Best of Show award, acknowledged that she knew very little about the topic of seed saving before she chose it for her show entry. Her presentation cited the large number of variety losses for many species of plants, documented the regulatory differences between countries on the growing of genetically modified crops, described the importance of pollinators for many plant species, and referred to the establishment of seed preservation banks in several countries.

Overall evaluation

In their overall evaluation, the judges were impressed by the diversity of topics chosen by the students on the theme of food and by the balance of views they presented on controversial topics. They also mentioned how well all of the students were dressed — a practice which Wilhelm said emerged during the eight-year history of the show.

Wilhelm also pointed out how staging the show was a collaborative rather than competitive venture among the students. In particular, she cited how the older students helped the first or second year entrants assemble their displays.

The learning nurtured by the show didn't end with the awarding of the Best of Show. That's because the students have been given the judging sheets which gave them scores of 1 to 5 on each of the points on which their entry was judged.

Within two weeks of the show, it was announced that the school will close at the end of this school year after serving the community for 134 years. That's because a stated goal of enrolling 20 students for kindergarten through grade 8 for the 2018-19 school year was not reached despite an extensive two-month campaign to reach the goal.