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Science Comes To Life In Local Competition

Sandburg Middle School takes top state honors.

Rockets were flying and eggs were dropping at Carl Sandburg Middle School last weekend. The Egg Drop and Bottle Rocket activities were just two of the events which comprised the Science Olympiad, an all-day state science tournament.

Throughout the day students identified chemistry powders, described fossil specimens, designed experiments, built structures and drew pictures of scientific concepts.

At the end of the day, Mount Vernon students had come out ahead. Carl Sandburg Middle School won the state competition and will go on to the National Competition in May. Chris Pryately said, "The team win was based upon a strong showing in all 18 categories; points were lost if a team did not compete in a category."

Jacob McCrumb and Ben Pryor won second place in the Can't Judge a Powder by its Color event. Kirsten Serba won third place for both Egg Drop and Bottle Rockets; Thorsten Swider and Greg Bechtol won first place in Meteorology-Climate and third place in Experimental Design.

Devon Cain took second place in Fossils; Thorsten Swider and Alex Carney won first place in Dynamic Planet.

Also competing from Sandburg were Emily Echols, Jana DeCoster, Carrie Bauer, Frank Collins, Frank Olechnowicz, Molly Weisblatt, Robert Reynolds, Leslie Kerr, Rob Reynolds, Pledger Green, Dana Vance, and Jack Soule.

STUDENTS FROM Walt Whitman also won big. Bailey Atterberry took second place in Science Crime Busters, Anna Bailey, Erin Beaulieu, David Beckett and Jeremy Brandt-Vorel won second place in Dynamic Planet, Wahaj Chaudry and Lane Cobb won third place in Fossils, Jocelyn Dugan and Allison Gibbs took second place in Reach for the Stars as well as third place in Fossils. David Gottardi and Stewart Huntoon got second place in Mystery Architecture, Samantha Kimble and Grant Loth won second place in Dynamic Planet, Meagan McAllister took a second place for Science Crime Busters, and Penelope Norton received two second place trophies—one for Reach for the Stars and another for Mystery Architecture.

Also competing from Walt Whitman were: Comfort Prescott, Anthony Smith, Dereck Stonesifer, Yanet Takele, Virginia Vivas, Jennifer Walker, Mark White, Michael White, Assiatu Williams and Amber Yates. Coaches for Walt Whitman were science teachers Jennifer Fornarotto and Peggy White.

Mark Daugherty was the main coach for the Sandburg team and was helped by Marc Rivers, Tracy Leahy, Betsy Hayward, Walt Sanford and Sarah Tempest. Dave Venezky also volunteered his time for the project. He is a member of RE-SEED (Retirees Embracing Science Education through Experiments and Demonstrations), a group organized by Sharon DeBragga. It's part of the Northeastern University program that prepares engineers, scientists and other scientific professionals to work with teachers in Fairfax County Public School science classrooms.

Venezky is a Ph.D. and worked at the Naval Research Laboratory for almost 50 years, retiring as the Head of the Surface Chemistry Branch. He had been working with one of the other science teachers at Sandburg when Daugherty asked him to help out with the Olympiad.

DAUGHERTY SAID, "The Sandburg students did a great job. Their success shows what hard-working, motivated students can achieve if they really want to be competitive. David Venezky is one of the hardest working volunteers I ever met — he was the driving force behind the team, especially with two of the more technically challenging events."

The events Daugherty referred to were the two chemistry activities; without Venezky, Daugherty said that he wouldn't have been able to devote as much time to the other events 16 events.

Training for the Olympiad was time-consuming. Elimination rounds began last November with 65 students competing for 19 slots (15 primary, 4 secondary). Daugherty said that he picked students based on how well they worked together and their displayed aptitude. He also said that he likes to work with kids who are curious.

Emily Echols and Carrie Bauer worked together on the Mystery Architecture. This event required them to build a tower in 50 minutes with a package of pre-selected materials. "It was hard, they gave us different materials than what we practiced with," said Echols.

Devon Cain and Molly Weisblatt said that their event required them to identify fossils. Weisblatt said that she selected that category because she liked dinosaurs and already knew a lot about them.

Because this was the first time that Sandburg participated in the event, they didn't really know what to expect. Daugherty said that he expected them to do well, but was surprised when they took first place. "I thought they'd be in the top three, because they all were so bright and didn't need much coaching."

The students were surprised as well. Jana DeCoster said, "Everybody thought that we didn't do that good."

This was only the second year this event was held in Virginia, and while it garnered the state title for Sandburg, it was more like a Northern Virginia Regional in the sense that most of the schools were from Northern Virginia. Daugherty said that he would coach again, but unfortunately he will not be at Sandburg next year; he and his wife are moving.