Members of the St. Peter’s University men’s basketball team and students from PS 28 in Jersey City Heights looked kind of out of place in the council chambers at the May 9 meeting of the City Council.
The City Council brought these two diverse groups together to celebrate the ability of Jersey City students to succeed on a national level, both in academics and sports.
Tall and justifiably proud members of the St. Peter’s team also looked a bit humbled in a chamber where great leaders of Jersey City have preceded them, even though this year the team made history of its own, becoming the first New Jersey team since 1975 to win a national championship, the first ever for the university.
Near them, looking even more awed, students from a PS 28 program called Team DRONE (Drones Recording Our Natural Environment) were honored by city officials because they won first place in the 2017 Lexus Eco Challenge, a program offered to students across the United States in grades 6 to 12 to create practical solutions to environment problems.
“This is another jewel in the crown of Jersey City.” – Steven Fulop
National recognition for PS 28, however, is nothing new, since teams of students who prowled the environment of Reservoir No. 3 in Jersey City had won before in 2012, when they won a trip to Florida.
In a rare appearance before the City Council, Mayor Steven Fulop also celebrated their accomplishments.
Smiling and shaking the hands of head coach John Dunne, Fulop said, “This is another jewel in the crown of Jersey City.”
Although founded in 1872, St. Peter’s University did not adopt its peacock mascot until after its reopening in 1930. The peacock symbolizes resurrection, according to the school mythology, something that appeared to reflect the success of a team that fought to win during its long season.
The team, also called the Peacocks, concluded its season with back to back wins that qualified it to compete in the national competitions. They were the first team from New Jersey to do so since 2004, and that eventually led them to their national championship.
A team effort
As with the basketball team, Team Drone brought to their competition their own special talents.
“Each of our students brought their own particular skills to this,” said teacher Joel Naatus, part of the school’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics program.)
Fritz Perera, for instance, specialized in drones, while Dianna Carreon brought her abilities in art.
While the basketball team had to fend off challenges by other athletes position by position, students in the drone program had a much smaller competitor, said Samantha Curevas.
She told the council that their goal was to find a way to locate and battle against predatory mites that hurt trees. She said Jersey City has less tree coverage than it should, and mites appear to damage many Jersey City trees.
“This about how predator mites affect trees, and how to protect them,” she said.
“Jersey City should have about 44percent coverage,” Ryan Nitschke said. “It has about 17.”
The team used drone-mounted 360-degree cameras to record data about the tree canopy throughout Jersey City to assess local tree population and identify areas of need.
In winning the award, judges awarded prize money and scholarships to teams that were judged to have created the best action plans to solve the problem.
“Our goal was to teach other kids as to how this was done,” Naatus said.
Carreon, Cuevas, Perera, Daniel Rivera and Ryan Nitschke built on lessons they had learned while studying local environment in Reservoir No. 3 and created a practical answer to a real problem facing Jersey City’s environment. As a result, they won $25,000 in prize money and the prestige of being the top winner in the national contest.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.