The AquaLeaders are Anastasia Hultquist and Owen Nowalsky (eighth-graders); and Mackenzie Ade, Steven Flynn and Isabella Scheper (seventh-graders).

In the fall of 2019, a number of students from Assumption Regional Catholic School known as the AquaLeaders, under the direction of junior high science teacher Patricia Naples entered the Lexus Land and Water challenge, which focuses on solving or improving environmental issues. The team’s topic, in the Lexus Eco Challenge section, was “Quality of Drinking Water in NJ Schools,” specifically focusing on lead contamination.

The teacher and the team recently learned they had won the regional completion for the Lexus Eco Challenge. The Eastern Region encompasses all the states from Maine to West Virginia. The AquaLeaders were one of two teams recognized in the region and are now eligible to compete nationally. The team, made up of Anastasia Hultquist and Owen Nowalsky, eighth graders; and Mackenzie Ade, Steven Flynn and Isabella Scheper, seventh graders; is excited and preparing to submit to the national competition.

According to Naples, the team met a few times prior to starting individual and group research over the summer of 2019. Each of the students said the experience of working together across grade levels and throughout the summer was an enjoyable and positive experience.

Roles were assigned and areas of responsibility. The AquaLeaders continue to work hard to raise awareness about the importance of water quality at home and in schools.

I caught up with the AquaLeaders after their regional Lexus Eco Challenge win. 

Molineaux: What was the first thing that went through your mind when you found out you won?

Steven: Happiness

Anastasia: Wait a minute, what? I really did not believe it at first

Owen: I was very happy!

Mackenzie: Shock!

Isabella: I was shocked and happy!

Molineaux: What was the reaction of family, friends and your teachers when they found out?

Steven: We weren’t allowed to say anything to anyone besides our parents until the results were published. My mom was so excited that she was having a hard time keeping the secret.

Anastasia: My mom said, “Wow! That is amazing! I am so proud of you!”

Owen: My parents’ reaction was one of disbelief. We were one of two teams chosen from our region!

Mackenzie: My mom was crying and she was so excited!

Isabella: My mom was crying and saying how proud she was of me.

Naples: I was so excited and very proud of the team!

Molineaux: Do you have to do any additional work to enter or prepare for the next level of completion?

The AquaLeaders: Yes, our project continues. We are currently organizing a festival titled Everything Water to be held at our school on the first day of Catholic Schools Week Jan. 27. Our festival will highlight the importance of water in our lives. We will be sharing our research and the results of our investigation with our community. We have also invited a number of local agencies to teach us about all the different aspects, such as water usage, waste water, our watershed, water and our health, etc.

We are also researching the issue of contaminants in water nationally and globally. We are designing and conducting experiments on other contaminants in water, sharing our research and results along with working on taking our project national and global.

Molineaux: What does it feel like going into the next level of competition? Are you nervous or excited or both?

Isabella: Stressful, we have a lot of work to do.

Anastasia: Exciting and anxious

Owen: Excited

Steven: Excited and nervous

Mackenzie: Very stressful and excited

Molineaux: We're rooting for The AquaLeaders as they enter the national competition. We cannot wait to see the results!

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