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All-girl New Jersey teams dominate at national school STEM competition

JERSEY CITY, NJ — P.S. 28 Christa McAuliffe Elementary School in Jersey City is now home to the top middle school science, technology, engineering, and mathematics team in the nation.

Their STEM team, the “Plastic Elastics," engineered a prototype to filter harmful microplastics out of our water. Every time you wash your clothes, microscopic plastic particles are flushed into the water supply.

"The fish eat the micro plastics, and we eat the fish,” said Karys Sunga, 14, a member of the 8th grade team.

The team is made up entirely of girls.

“We don’t know why,” Albania Cruz, 14, said. “Girl power!”

The six girls on the team, their teacher-advisors and the school will share in the $30,000 in scholarships and grants awarded at the 11th annual Lexus Eco Challenge. They were previously awarded $10,000 for their project.

Through their research, the girls also learned that glitter is considered a microplastic.

“So then we started a campaign called G.L.O.W., which means glitter leaves our water,” team member Gabriella Martinez, 13, said.

The projects are driven by student ideas, teacher-advisor Malissa Yabut said.

“All of the thinking, questions and sense of wonder comes from the students," she said.

P.S. 28’s “Styro-terminators," another all-girls team, was also recognized at the competition. They won for researching how beetles can survive on styrofoam diet. But beyond beetle-food, styrofoam is not biodegradable. So the girls have been lobbying the local school board to get rid of styrofoam trays in the lunchroom.

Both teams cash winnings were presented in front of the entire school today, in an effort to inspire other students.

"They serve as an inspiration for everyone,” science teacher Robert O'Donnell said.