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Students Master the Mosquito!

Making Mosquito Repellent Wipes
By Alicia Ford, Spanish Teacher, Preschool-7th Grade

Summer, 2018

Cedarwood Elective class learns first hand from the experts

Cedarwood Elective class learns first hand from the experts

As part of Cedarwood’s vibrant middle school elective classes that offer our students an opportunity to participate in creative and otherwise unique opportunities, I have enjoyed sharing with students my personal interests in hobbies such as making organic herbal soaps and most recently, organic mosquito repellent wipes. You may ask, why? There are plenty of products on the market today that are similar. And that would be true, however, from a middle school student perspective, this is a hands-on activity that encompasses real learning. From determining the type of herbs or soap base, to the labels and marketing, students engage in their first exposure to creating a business. The pride and achievement when our products sell also benefits their self-esteem.
Over the summer I thought about the mosquito nuisance in south Louisiana and read an article about the chemical DEET that in larger doses can be harmful. Even in smaller doses, would I want that chemical sprayed on my skin? What if we could develop an organic mosquito repellent wipe, test it, package it and sell it to our school community to help raise funds for Student Council?

August, 2018
So began this creative opportunity for our students! I contacted the Mosquito Abatement Office in Slidell in hopes of just getting

Alicia Ford, Elective Teacher & Melissa Hardesty, Science Teacher

Alicia Ford, Elective Teacher & Melissa Hardesty, Science Teacher

advice on whether such a product would be feasible using just organic essential oils and simple ingredients. What I was about to discover was an education on the science behind mosquitos! Dr. Kevin Caillouet, Ph. D., M.S.P.H., the director of the St. Tammany Mosquito Abatement District Office, shared some insight into CDC (Centers for Disease Control) effective ingredients in mosquito repellent products. He also offered to come to Cedarwood School to give a presentation to our elective students on mosquitos! I was absolutely thrilled. School had not even started and electives had not yet been established. But, I knew that I had to teach this elective!!

School Starts

Testing the Larva

Testing the Larva

I am sure that when our students looked at the elective choices on the first week of school, they most likely hesitated when they saw the “Mosquito” class. What was Mrs. Ford up to now? Were we expected to catch mosquitos? Hatch mosquitos? I had A LOT of questions as students trickled in to class for the first time. When I explained the purpose of our elective, they were immediately fascinated. One student asked that if the wipes worked would we patent them. I immediately thought of Shark Tank (one of my favorite television shows!). Dream the impossible, right?! But first I told them we needed a proven, tested product!
I had students watch a video from Globe.gov about the ZIKA virus epidemic and learned that students in South American countries like Brazil, participate in a NASA-sponsored effort to track mosquito larvae in habitats near schools to help eradicate and identify dangerous mosquito populations. I attended a teacher conference at the Infinity Science Center in Pearlington, MS with fellow faculty in early August and learned about tracking weather statistics and it was mentioned that the Globe.gov initiative was also tracking dangerous mosquitos. I immediately raised my hand and said “This will tie in perfectly with my mosquito repellent wipe elective class!” To which the presenter of our conference, Donna Torres (School Programs Coordinator for the Infinity Science Center), said, see me afterward. I have the name of someone you might want to talk to. Lucky for our community, we don’t have the ZIKA virus, however, we can certainly participate in this worldwide initiative to track larvae and catch the disease before it affects us!
I heard a lot of “ew that’s gross” when there was talk about the larvae. I get it! I don’t like the thought of it either, but none of us has really seen larvae in person, so how would be know? What we did know was that mosquitos are a nuisance at evening time when we want to enjoy cooler weather and we wanted to create a repellent wipe that would help in this regard.
I went to the CDC and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) websites and found registered mosquito repellent products that are tested for effectiveness. Of course only the primary ingredients are listed. Many listed DEET and some listed a common essential oil: lemon eucalyptus. The percentage of the ingredients was listed. I took note and shared with my elective class that oils had been ordered, sample packaging was also coming and that soon we would begin the process of testing recipes.

Presentation – St. Tammany Mosquito Abatement District office

Mosquito Abatement Office reps teach class

Mosquito Abatement Office reps teach class

On Thursday, August 23, Dr. Caillouet and Nick DeLisi (entomologist) from the St. Tammany Mosquito Abatement District office, visited Cedarwood School and gave a presentation on mosquitos. It was fascinating and so educational! This team of mosquito experts also brought along a science experiment for our students to participate in after their presentation. Students were divided into two groups. They first had to make a hypothesis on which predators were most and least likely to eat mosquito larvae. Yes, “ew”!! They brought vials of larvae which looked like white fingernail clippings swimming about in water. (Ugh, gag!) The “predators” were a water bug, tadpole, small fish and water scorpion. Students dumped the vials containing 10 larvae into each container with a predator. Then we waited and observed. Some predators immediately ate the larvae. But, the larvae were smart. They literally froze and went “dormant” as to outsmart their predators! Then nothing happened!
We left the experiment overnight and the next day, students completed their observations. We found that the water bug in one experiment ate all of the larvae and the fish in another experiment ate all of the larvae. Interesting! The water scorpion came in a close second in both experiments. How wonderful if we had these predators around our homes! Perhaps we wouldn’t have a bad mosquito problem!
Students were then assigned homework to look for common backyard mosquito sources. Pots holding water or old buckets lying around are common mosquito breeding sources. They were asked to empty the sources to help eliminate mosquito breeding problems in their yards.


Making the product

Cutting the wipes

Cutting the wipes

We began the process of making the wipe on Thursday, August 30. We followed four different recipes, making sure that we listed every ingredient. We found it most effective to add a cup of water to the oils, witch hazel and baby oil for the paper towels to absorb the product effectively. We did think that the baby oil made the recipes somewhat greasy, however, the general thought was that the repellent stayed on our skin longer this way. There was some discussion of cutting back on the baby oil in future recipes. Since we had a three day weekend coming up (Labor Day), I had students take wipes in various recipes to test at home. Our goal was to test the product the following Thursday at the Mosquito Abatement District Office. Little did we know a little Tropical Storm would extend the Labor Day weekend another two days, our field trip to the Mosquito Abatement District Office would need to be rescheduled.

Naming the Wipes and Creating Labels (Thursday, Sept. 6)
Skeeterwood logo 2Next up on our agenda was to brainstorm and come up with a name for our repellent wipes. It had to be catchy and in some way, we hoped, also reflect our school. We were twenty minutes into class, writing ideas, crumpling up index cards and paper, before an “aha” moment presented itself. Joel DiFranco stood up and said “I have it! Skeeterwood Wipes”. The entire class bellowed out “yes, yes, yes! That’s it!” It is the perfect name! We are all so proud of Joel’s creativity! Several students took the lead in developing labels – Miley, Allison, and Gracyn began researching a design that would compliment the name. Gracyn developed the first draft labels which matched the name amazingly well. Our elective group was certainly on to a marketing success after one class! I couldn’t be prouder. Next, however, was the more important task of testing the wipes to see if they would be effective! Our field trip would be our next class the following week!

Tour of the Mosquito Abatement District Office; Thursday, Sept. 13
We were excited on Thursday, September 13 to finally get to take our field trip to the St. Tammany Mosquito District Abatement office.

Cedarwood Middle School Elective Students visit St. Tammany Mosquito Abatement Office

Cedarwood Middle School Elective Students visit St. Tammany Mosquito Abatement Office

It is located off of Airport Road in Slidell and quite the complex. One building houses offices and laboratories, while a garage houses their sprayer trucks, swamp vehicle and finally a hangar for their airplanes. Nick Delisi, the entomologist for the Abatement District, was our tour guide and gave our elective students an excellent tour and presentation. We learned a lot about this facility’s responsibilities for our entire parish in fighting the ever-present mosquito problem in Louisiana. Your tax dollars are hard at work employing newest technologies and best practices! They just received their new mosquito sprayer plane called the “Skeeterbomber”! The District also works closely with LSU to test for diseases mosquitos carry (West Nile, Zika) so that St. Tammany parish residents can be informed quickly. We could write a blog for just this visit!! Did you know that there are over 60 different mosquito species in Louisiana?! Did you also know that the aggressive Asian Tiger mosquito is one of them? We were able to test all four repellent wipe recipes against tubs filled with the Asian tiger mosquito! Luckily we found out that this was the mosquito we were testing with AFTER the tests! There was a little hesitation on the part of Mrs. Ford as she, Mr. Delisi and Mrs. Scoggins (a parent of a 7th grader), willingly placed their hands into the buckets of mosquitos that were tightly wrapped with netting. Would the mosquitos bite? There were 20 hungry mosquitos ready to do what they do best. We tested each wipe for 30 seconds in the tubs. I am pleased to report that no mosquitos bit anyone, nor did any land on our hands, except for once. One curious mosquito landed, but he flew off (hopefully because of the repellent scent! ) We came away with so much excitement! The wipes were effective! Of course we discussed that we would have to caveat the fact that although they were effective, we were only able to test them in a controlled environment for 30 second intervals, with 1/60 mosquito species. Nonetheless, we were on to something! Now, we needed to purchase the materials to make our repellent wipes in larger quantities.

Designing the Labels (Thursday, Sept. 20)
We began designing the labels now that we had the perfect name! We wanted to create an oval label that could be affixed to the plastic

Custom packaging for the wipes

Custom packaging for the wipes

dispenser topper on the vinyl wipe bag. There was a lot of measuring and discussion of color for the label. One of our students, Gracyn Dunavant, was very skilled in Microsoft Publisher, so between Gracyn’s design vision and Cindy Braud’s finishing efforts, the labels were born! Skeeterwood wipes would have a tree bark background and the words would be white. That task was complete and now we realized that with any skin care product, we needed to create a disclaimer label to be affixed on the back of the vinyl wipe bag. Mrs. Ford, with the help of Mrs. LeBlanc, discussed the disclaimer wording for the product, with keen focus on historical research for other skin care products on the market. We knew we needed to state the ingredients, directions for use, and information about the testing of the product at the Mosquito Abatement District Office in Slidell.
Templates for Wipes (Wipe-out) (Thursday, Sept. 27 and the week following during classroom breaks, recesses, etc.!)
It was now all hands on deck! We reached out to students on Student Council and began the task of using a template to trace the size we needed out of the 10 x 12 wipes. The plan was to cut the 10 x 12 size dry wipe into thirds. Our ideal size for the vinyl wipe bag was 4” x 8”. At first it didn’t seem like it would be too much to complete this task, but then we ran the numbers. Our plan was to make 50 wipe containers, filled with 15 wipes each. That meant we needed 750 4” x 8” dry wipes cut out. There was a lot of math and running the numbers by all students. We measured and re-measured. This would be tedious!! Mrs. Ford made cardboard templates from the empty box of wipes. No waste! Template tracing went on for the entire class and the following week during classroom breaks, recesses, etc. Everyone offered to help! They all wanted these wipes to be sold at the Fall picnic!

Cutting the wipes and soaking them in the recipe! (Thursday, Oct. 4 and Oct. 11)
And now the time had come for the wipes to be hand cut. Mrs. Ford brought sharp scissors from home and the cutting began with a feverish tempo. Our goal on this day was to cut enough wipes (750) to fill 50 wipe containers. If we had time over the course of the elective class, we would also make the wipes and place them in the vinyl bags. Labels would arrive early the next week and printing and affixing those would not take much time. The work at hand was cutting and making the wipes! Occasionally we had to remind ourselves to focus on the task at hand so as not to be overwhelmed. We were feeling the pain of a start-up business! Would the product we have poured ourselves into during the last 8 or 9 weeks finally be complete and ready for public sale? We were shooting for the stars and nothing less!
We made stacks of 15 wipe sets and began to soak them in our repellent solution. Students quickly placed them in our packaging and sealed them. One group then affixed labels. Another group of students began arranging them for sale on trays. We met and surpassed our goal of 50 wipes. We made 5 more sets. They were ready to sell at our Fall picnic just in time!
Fall Picnic (Friday, October 12)
We made a display board to tell the story of the wipe elective to have at our sale table. Many parents stopped to view the display board and buy wipes. Mosquitos were a nuisance outside and parents purchased the wipes to use that evening. Everyone was pleased that they worked so well. We sold 38 out of the 55 that evening, and by Tuesday of the following week, thanks to testimonials from wipe users, we were completely sold out! Proceeds went to the Student Council fund to benefit future projects or drives.

Product Production

Product Production

Conclusion
Students in the Mosquito Repellent Wipe elective learned how to create a small business by conducting research, developing and testing a product, creating a brand and marketing and the cost/profit ratio of the sale of the product all in the course of a 9-week elective. It was a complete success that kicked off the start of another great school year at Cedarwood School.