The cafeteria in West Middle School got a little gusty as sixth-graders competed to blow the fastest wind speeds to raise money for kids with cancer.
The wind speed contest and weather presentation were part of Wind for Change, a fundraising initiative for the Cool Kids Campaign. The West Middle students have been raising money for the cancer charity with goals of getting donations from all 50 states and raising $10,000.
Wind for Change is a project started by meteorologist Justin Berk, who said he had been doing school assemblies since he was in college and brought the program to the Cool Kids Campaign after meeting one of the charity's co-founders while Berk was a Baltimore-area broadcast meteorologist.
"It seemed like it was a good fit because I was originally diagnosed with cancer and nearly lost my leg," Berk said.
The Cool Kids Campaign helps improve quality of life for kids with cancer, and Berk can relate to that mission because he ended up being hospitalized for two months after doctors realized that his cancer was misdiagnosed and was instead a staph infection.
"It was a very isolating experience, and I don't want anyone to go through that," he said.
His story made an impression on sixth-grader Kirsten Whitehead, who said it was her favorite part of the presentation.
"How he cared for the kids who had cancer, and how he fought and he knew he was going to get through the whole leg thing," Kirsten said when asked what was her favorite part of the presentation.
There's more than $8,500 going to the Cool Kids Campaign this year so far thanks to the students at West Middle School, Berk said in a tweet. The students' fundraiser officially ends Wednesday, May 18.
Of all participating West Middle students, Lauren Mondor raised the most money for the charity, with $725.
As an incentive for the students, some teachers will cut their hair into Mohawks and dye it blue. If the students meet their $10,000 goal, teacher Ken Mihalyov will cut his hair and dye it to look like a pineapple.
While they haven't quite made it to $10,000, Mihalyov said he is "overwhelmed by how much they raised."
"They definitely get behind it and get fired up," he said.
Each round of Wednesday's challenge had two students face off to see who could blow the fastest wind speed into an anemometer, which looks like a small handheld fan. The honor of the fastest speed on the first try went to Emily Wellnitz, who blew a speed of 45 mph, earning her the moniker Tropical Storm Emily.
For the most part, the students blew anywhere from 15 to 38 mph, meaning they blew between the speed of a gusty wind to the speed of a nor'easter wind, according to Berk's presentation.
Delanie Smothers, who blew 28 mph, and TJ Korpa, who blew 29 mph, brought storm-level winds into the cafeteria, and there were a couple of nor'easter wind speeds blown by Caroline Hines, with 38 mph, and Riley Starr who blew 35 mph.
"I thought it was going to be easy, but it was hard because you had to blow hard to get higher numbers," said Kyra Martindale, who blew 17.2 mph.
Kyra wasn't alone in being surprised at how challenging it was to blow a high speed. Ryan Higgins who blew 20 mph, and Jake Jemsen, who blew 29 mph, found it to be more difficult than they expected.
"It was kind of awkward holding [the anemometer] up to my face so close," Jake said. "I was kind of disappointed because I thought I blew 50 [mph] and I didn't."
In addition to the challenge, Berk also walked students through a brief overview of different weather, from snowstorms to lightning.