PATERSON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Three middle school students in Paterson, New Jersey, have advanced to the final round of a national contest.

“My mom says she’s really proud of me,” finalist Lorena Cruz told CBS2’s Tara Jakeway.

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“I feel excited and happy,” finalist Karen Vargas said.

Lorena Cruz, Ashley Martinez and Karen Vargas have many reasons to celebrate. All three immigrated to this country a few years ago, and now they’ve qualified for the finals in a nationwide school contest.

Martha Cruz is their teacher at Public School No. 8 in Paterson.

“Nov. 14, I got the letter. ‘Congratulations, you are one of the state finalists,’” she said.

She heard about the Samsung “Solve For Tomorrow” contest and knew the straight-A students — originally from Columbia, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic — would embrace the challenge. It’s what they do in the eighth grade every day.

Finalists Karen Vargas, Ashley Martinez and Lorena Cruz (Credit: CBS2)

“Being here in this program, learning the curriculum at the same time that they are learning a language is amazing,” Cruz said.

The annual Solve For Tomorrow contest challenges public school teachers and students to use science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, to improve their local community.

Although new to New Jersey, the middle schoolers quickly identified a statewide problem they wanted to solve.

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“Right now, the water is contaminated by lead,” Ashley said.

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Worried about their drinking water, the Public School No. 8 team came up with a plan.

“We’re looking into evapo-transporation, which is, our plants exude water as they go through photosynthesis and we want to recycle that water,” teacher Ivette Soto said.

The students showed CBS2 a small version of their project using a crockpot. They would collect water from the photosynthesis process and recycle it back into the school’s drinking water, lead-free. The process would be powered by solar panels on the school’s roof.

“It would mean that they would have fresh water and also understand the importance of water and recycling it so we can conserve it for the future,” Soto said.

A plan for the future Samsung loved.

“I feel proud that we’ve made it so far,” Lorena said.

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The young ladies will find out if their project wins on Dec. 23. If so, they will get $15,000 in Samsung products that will go right into their classroom.