Melanie Arcos Velazquez and Amarie Perez, 8-year-old second-graders at Wildwood's Glenwood Avenue Elementary School, illustrated colorful, vibrant posters of a subject that may have proved difficult: soil.

The girls' posters were for the Cape Atlantic New Jersey Conservation Poster Contest, and they won first and second places, respectively, in the second-third grade division.

This year's topic was "Dig Deeper: Mysteries in the Soil." Every year, second-grade teacher Erin Ridgway, of Erma, enters her students' posters in the contest and centers lessons on the poster themes. Last year's theme was "Where Does Your Water Shed?"

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"This year we watched videos of farmers and learned about soil regeneration," Ridgway said. "They take the information from what they learned and (incorporate) it into the poster."

Velazquez's poster featured an apple tree, bugs in the ground and a girl in a dress who she said was shoveling. Perez's poster also featured an apple tree and a girl, with insight into a world under the grass.

All the posters were made with oil pastels, Ridgway said.

Velazquez said her poster shows what is "important for the soil, so that animals can live," while Perez said she wanted to show that "soil is important" for worms, bugs and plants.

Velazquez's poster was sent to Trenton to be judged in the state competition.

This year, Ridgway's second-grade class consists of English as a second language students. This is the first year the children are learning entirely in English. Ridgway said many of her students didn't know the word "soil" before the poster contest, so they started from the beginning.

"I knew from the past the (contest organizers) wanted bright, vibrant posters," Ridgway said. "We don't have an art program here, so I try to incorporate art as much as I can."

For the contest, the students sketched a poster idea, which had to be approved by Ridgway. Over the past few years, Ridgway has had poster contest winners in her class.

For their achievement, both girls were awarded gift certificates to Books-A-Million.

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