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Possible Return to School Five (5) Days


BRENTWOOD, NEW YORK (JANUARY 2021)—When a fully remote Brentwood High School senior, Ashley Alacantara, was faced with the prospect that a global pandemic could deter her from a 2021 Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS) submission, staff from the Brentwood Union Free School District collaborated with Ashley to set up a garage laboratory for her to conduct studies. Subsequently, the BUFSD is ecstatic to share Ashley’s achievement of being named a semifinalist in this year’s search.

“It’s a privilege to celebrate Ashley for her prestigious, and well-deserved recognition in the Regeneron competition,” said Mr. Richard Loeschner, superintendent of schools. “Ashley’s tenacity and dedication, particularly while enrolled in our fully remote instructional model, has not wavered in the face of many challenges because of the pandemic. Ashley is a wonderful example of the significance of fostering strong student-staff relationships throughout the district to ensure continuity of learning. On behalf of the Board of Education and Central Office, we are thrilled to continue supporting and rooting for Ashley throughout her participation in this competition.” 

Ashley’s project, Farming Biodegradable Packaging Using Pleurotus Ostreatus Mycelium, investigated the application of mycelium, extracted from the fungi Pleurotus ostreatus, in devising biodegradable packaging, in an attempt to solve our global plastic pollution issues. Through her comprehensive research, Ashley was able to support her hypothesis of the efficacy of mycelium-based packaging as a greener alternative to petroleum-based packaging.

“Ashley is a fully remote student so we met daily via teams and in-person to make sure her project would come together for the Regeneron Science Talent Search. We went over data collection methods, analysis and even collected data together virtually,” said Dr. Rebecca Grella, Brentwood High School Research Scientist & Research Teacher. “In conducting her research, Ashley farmed mushrooms in a grow tent in her garage lab. She also received a helping hand from Dr. Dianna Padilla of Stony Brook University, who assisted Ashley with her Instron testing, testing used to test the strength of the packaging materials Ashley created using mushroom mycelium.”

The Regeneron Science Talent Search is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competitions for high school seniors. Regeneron is a company founded with the goal of transforming lives through science with the social commitment to supporting the development of innovative young thinkers. Students must submit original research in critically important scientific fields of study. Ashley will be competing in the next round of competition to become one of the 40 finalists chosen for a top prize of up to $250,000.