At Sehome High School, one of the most popular clubs is Science Olympiad, a program that is largely student-driven. The idea of the program is to encourage students to explore science and have fun while they’re doing it, which is the main reason that Sehome’s club is organized so uniquely. Mark Toney, a physics teacher, and Amy Hankinson, a chemistry teacher, are usually the advisors of the club but since Hankinson is taking a sabbatical for second semester of this year, fellow chemistry teacher Carter Maden is filling in.
At the beginning of the year, teachers select student leaders. These leaders are then assigned to one of Sehome’s 10 teams: Barnacles, Belugas, Au (Gold) Standard, Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, Pirate Booty, Riptide, Shark Attack or Tsunami. Then leaders choose another student to be their co-leader. Thus the framework of Science Olympiad is born.
“Students graduate every four years so it’s good to have that remaining structure every year, with the students who lead the events individually,” says Ariana Raduege, a junior who co-leads team Tsunami. “Toney leads the actual structure of the whole process, so I think it’s a really good system because the teachers provide the main infrastructure and the students get to be the interior design.”
After this process is completed, leaders and co-leaders are given a day when the members of each team will be chosen. The names of all the members are put into a Google spreadsheet and on the assigned day at the exact time, leaders are permitted to start copying and pasting names into their team slots. “There’s a ready, set, go and then you go for it and that’s how names get chosen,” Ariana says. “I’m terrified about that next year.”
Next year, Ariana hopes to lead a team with a friend. They already have begun to plan for their selection. “We’re going to try and figure out who we want ahead of time so that way when we go in for the day when we all battle over people, we can just snatch up everybody,” she says.
Finally, after teams are selected, students are assigned three or four events each. These events range anywhere from Microbe Mission to Forensics, Hovercraft and many more. From this point on, the process slows a bit because the regional competition is usually in March. There is a bit of quiet before students need to start preparing.
However, this year was a little different. Due to unforeseen changes in how many teams are allowed at the competition, Sehome had to decide whether or not to turn people away from the club. This process lasted several weeks. Then, after teachers talked to students and students talked amongst themselves, someone came up with the idea of a Sehome Invitational in addition to the regional competition, where students from other schools in the district would be invited and alumni would come and proctor events. The events were the same as the ones offered at the regional level and all students who wanted to participate could do so.
“I think that the invitational is a lot of fun,” Ariana says, “and it was really good for our first one.” It even included performances from members of the orchestra and school bands before the awards ceremony. The awarded medals were ceramic and were designed by two students in the club.
The essence of the invitational is really what makes Sehome different. “We like to encourage kids to have fun over actually doing well,” Ariana explains. “We encourage kids to do well too, but it’s more important that kids show up and enjoy themselves rather than ace the tests. I think it’s a good experience for kids because it’s not a high stakes situation for them to try and do things. School is really oriented towards – you have to know this because it’s going to be on the test, if you don’t do well on the test you’re going to fail the class and then you’re going to wind up dead in a gutter. But at Science Olympiad you’re just like, ‘Hey! I don’t know this; I like B.’ It’s fun and you laugh.”
Even though there isn’t a huge emphasis placed on winning for the sake of winning, this does not deter student effort. Many of the events involve compiling pages of research or building a structure (like in Mousetrap Vehicle or Towers) before the actual competition. Mr. Toney hosts work parties in his physics classroom, which is stock full of helpful items, including drills, balsa wood, super glue and much more. The work parties usually happen two or three times a week about two weeks before competition and last from the end of the school day until around 8:00 p.m. or sometimes even later. Around 5:00 p.m. Toney orders pizza for all the students.
The experience of Science Olympiad is both fun and meaningful for students. “I think that it’s really important for kids to get to explore different types of science,” says Ariana, “and see how much science there really is, try out new things and have fun.”