Monte Del Sol Charter School seventh grader Ahmed Maaz hooks up the water turbine on his team’s entry in the Future City Competition on Thursday at the school. Maaz and two classmates worked during the lunch hour on their creation, Beleza do Rio (the city of a billion trees), which won the middle-school STEM challenge designed to create solutions for climate change.
By the time it hosts the United Nations conference on climate change in 2098, the Brazilian city of Beleza do Rio will be a climate-friendly paradise.
Roving carbon capture robots will scale the city’s terraces, which were designed to facilitate farming and limit flooding from a nearby river. Geothermal and hydroelectric power plants, combined with public magnet levitation trains and rentable bicycles, will eliminate the city’s fossil fuel use. Arboretums across the city host a billion trees and enough vertical farming structures to supply residents with fresh produce.
The city has been rated “the most planet-friendly and diverse city in South America,” tourism materials tout.
Unfortunately, perhaps, Beleza do Rio isn’t a real city. It was created by Ahmed Maaz, Isaac Aragon and Weslee Nixon, three seventh graders at Santa Fe’s Monte del Sol Charter School, with some support from their teacher, Dayni Staddon.
In January, team members and their fictional urban area took first place at the state Future City Competition, a middle school science competition in which students present a model city’s answers to engineering challenges, specifically climate change.
Now, Maaz, Aragon and Nixon are preparing to transport Beleza do Rio to Washington, D.C., for the national competition, which features teams from all over the U.S. as well as China, Egypt, Canada and Nigeria.
“I am so proud of them. I’m so proud of our teacher, Dayni, for taking charge of this group [and] for them to represent our small charter school going to the nation’s capital,” said Monte del Sol Assistant Head Learner Erika Penczer.
At the beginning of the school year — long before Beleza do Rio had come to life — Staddon worried the school wouldn’t be able to create a team for the competition. Maaz was already excited to participate, inspired by an older sibling active in the competition and a Future City award on the wall of Staddon’s classroom. Staddon invited Nixon, new to the school, to join the team, too.
But the team needed at least three members to participate in the statewide competition.
Aragon, invited to join by Nixon, was the essential final member of Monte del Sol’s Future City team. They would be able to compete.
The three students worked through lunch periods and after school to produce three essential components for the Future City Competition: a 1,500-word essay describing the city’s adaptations to climate change; a presentation, complete with some Portuguese and sample tourism brochures, on their city; and a model of Beleza do Rio, constructed from cardboard, plastic spoons, pistachio shells and other recycled materials.
They displayed all parts of the project to industry-professional judges at the state’s Future City Competition last month, first showing off their model city and then presenting and answering judges’ questions.
The judges asked: How did the team’s goals evolve over time? How did you divide the work equally? What types of engineers did you need to construct the city?
“I feel like all of us, as a team, did pretty good answering,” Aragon said.
“Without our teammates, without our teacher, we wouldn’t have succeeded,” Maaz added.
And the team did succeed. Monte del Sol took home the top overall prize at New Mexico’s Future City Competition as well as prizes for the essay, model, presentation and project management skills.
Other Santa Fe schools placed as well, with Santa Fe Public Schools’ Carlos Gilbert Elementary School, Wood Gormley Elementary School and Nina Otero Community School winning awards.
As the national competition — which will take place Feb. 18-21 — approaches, the teammates said they’re feeling a healthy mix of excitement and nervousness. None of the three students have been to Washington before.
“I’m kind of nervous because it’s international. China’s going to be there. Egypt’s going to be there,” Aragon said. “The stakes are going to rise a lot, but I feel like we can do it.”
“Honestly, I think we’re so busy trying to do everything we don’t really have time to feel nervous,” Nixon added.
Maaz said he hopes the national competition offer inspiration in the construction of next year’s future city at Monte del Sol.
“I’m going there not to just win; it’s to go and get ideas of what to do maybe next year,” he said.
Regardless of whether her students bring home the national title, Staddon said she’s proud of all their hard work, from producing a creative presentation to constructing Beleza do Rio’s buildings from recycled materials.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I think, whether or not we win any awards, we’re going to learn a lot, we’re going to meet students from all over the world, and we’re going to enjoy the whole process.”