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Autobell® Car Wash funds pilot “Creek Challenge” STEM Program for participating Charlotte-Mecklenburg elementary schools

Mar 02, 2016
Autobell Car Wash, the family-owned and -operated car wash chain founded in Charlotte, NC in 1969, is taking its essential water conservation message to the next generation via the Autobell® Creek Challenge, a unique water-related science program being piloted in nine Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) elementary schools this year.

A new curriculum and related competition for the participating schools, the program launches this semester with teacher training, followed by classroom and on-site creek education for the students. Teams of fourth and fifth grade students at the participating schools will undertake the curriculum and subsequently compete in challenge activities that demonstrate their Mecklenburg County creek knowledge. School champions will advance to the final competition to be held June 4, 2016, at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Charlotte. Various prizes will be awarded by Autobell to participants and the winners of each competition.

Teams will utilize a customized Autobell Creek Challenge Kit containing the necessary equipment to gain specific water knowledge and conduct related tests and experiments. Classrooms will also have maps and pamphlets detailing various Mecklenburg County creeksheds.

Autobell proposed creating and funding the project as a follow-up to KEEPING WATCH on WATER: City of Creeks, a Spring 2015 series of art and museum exhibits, online materials, and public events focusing on Mecklenburg County's urban waterways. KEEPING WATCH is a multiyear initiative from the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and the UNCC College of Arts + Architecture to draw attention to environmental topics.

The Center for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education at UNC Charlotte and the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute developed the curriculum and activities for the Autobell Creek Challenge. The two UNC Charlotte entities and Autobell staff have worked together to design materials and activities that engage CMS students in learning about regional water quality issues and their role as stewards of this important resource.

Autobell has long been a proponent of water conservation, receiving a dozen related recognitions since 2000 from government, non-profit, and media entities.

In a letter addressing the Creek Challenge elementary school participants, Autobell CEO Chuck Howard reflected on his lifelong connection to water.

“As a young boy growing up in Charlotte, I was fascinated by the creeks in our neighborhood.  My friends and I would play in and around the waterways, learning about various critters whose lives were dependent on the water and surrounding ecosystems. As we grew older, we would even fish, swim, and build rafts in the larger creeks. It was a wonderful part of my childhood that helped mold my view today on protecting Earth's most precious resource -- water.

“My company is also very concerned about water conservation, which led us to develop the Autobell Creek Challenge, because we know it is very important to educate and engage our youth about this most important resource. [They] are our future and can make a difference.”

Mary Newsom, associate director of the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, elaborated, "Autobell came to us with this program idea in early 2015. We immediately embraced it and began development. We intend it to be an engaging, educational, and ongoing program that we can roll out systemwide in CMS over time. We are grateful to Autobell for making this happen."

Newsom's sentiment was echoed by Alisa Wickliff, Associate Director of the UNC Charlotte Center for STEM Education. "We also involved various levels of CMS educators in the Creek Challenge development, and the interest, input and enthusiasm from them was outstanding. A lot of people are very excited about this program and eager to help it grow.”

The CMS elementary schools selected for the pilot effort are Paw Creek, Huntersville, Parkside, Elizabeth Traditional, Reedy Creek, Highland Mill Montessori, Rama Road, Endhaven, and Steele Creek.

Autobell Car Wash is America's second largest conveyor car wash company, with 72 locations in North and South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia. The company was founded in 1969 in Charlotte, NC, by the late Charles Howard Sr. and remains privately held and operated by the Howard family. Autobell now employs approximately 3,000 people and washes over 4 million cars annually.

The company is well known for its water conservation procedures and has received numerous recognitions from government, non-profit, and media entities for its environmental commitment, as well as its community involvement, employee scholarship program, and charity car wash program. All Autobell washes treat 100% of wash water used and recycle up to 100%.

For more information, visit or follow the company at or on Twitter @AutobellCarWash.

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