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Shady Side Academy student 'worms' way to award

Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Shady Side Academy student Walter Navid sits in the school garden with one pot of his nightcrawlers.
Jan Pakler | for The Herald
Shady Side Academy student Walter Navid sits in the school garden with one pot of his nightcrawlers.

As seventh-grader Walter Navid dug a home for a bucket of earthworms in the garden at Shady Side Academy Middle School, it was as if he were bidding farewell to old friends.

“One of the simplest creatures on Earth and they can do amazing work. They are natural-born recyclers,” said Walter, who studied worms and their habitat and entered his findings in a contest by the American Museum of Natural History.

His work earned Walter, 13, a Young Naturalist Award for the essay, “What Produces Nutrient-Rich Soil?”

He is one of two students nationwide to earn the Naturalist Award, which will be distributed at a ceremony May 30 at the New York-based museum.

Middle school teacher Bonnie Maxwell had students conduct experiments as part of her science curriculum. In all, she submitted 28 student entries to the Young Naturalist Awards, 15 of which were selected as finalists and semifinalists.

Maxwell said Walter's task was to create an experiment involving the study of nature and he chose worms and their composting abilities. Walter studied two types of earthworms in 12 different habitats for four months. He learned that making their home in the dirt can make it a richer environment.

In separate containers, Walter studied how long it took food and other scraps to decay as opposed to when paired with worms.

“They did a great job of turning decaying matter into fertile soil,” he said.

Walter's teacher said she wasn't surprised when he was chosen as a winner.

“His entire project was excellent from start to finish,” she said.

“He had hundreds of worms in containers and collected great amounts of data.”

The Young Naturalist Awards is a program of the National Center for Science Literacy, Education and Technology, through the museum's Department of Education. The science-based research competition for students in grades seven through 12 is aimed at promoting participation in biology, ecology, Earth science and astronomy. More than 900 essays were judged by a panel of scientists, educators, environmentalists and writers.

Walter said he is looking forward to his trip to Manhattan, where he will receive his award during a luncheon and behind-the-scenes tour of the museum.

“It is interesting that a creature that is so small, about 4 or 5 inches long, has led me to one of the world's largest museums that exhibits the world's great natural giants: a stampeding herd of elephants, the giant sequoia and a Galapagos giant tortoise,” Walter said.

“Never underestimate the power of the little guys.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at

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