Science does not stay in the classroom for a group of students at St. Michael’s School in Newark.
Fifteen students in grades six through eight spent several months last year preparing for a regional science olympiad competition, which was held at St. John Fisher College on Feb. 14, 2004.
Parent Pam McKechney coached the team, which began preparing for the competition in November 2003. McKechney was up to the task at hand, as she had previously been a science teacher in the Palmyra-Macedon School District and at St. Francis-Stephen’s School in Geneva. At the beginning of the 2002-03 school year — when her oldest child, Caitlyn, was in seventh grade — McKechney approached St. Michael’s School with the idea of entering a team in the regional science olympiad.
“I promised my kids that when the time came I would coach a science olympiad for them,” McKechney said.
The school agreed to the idea, and McKechney visited the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade science classes to tell students about the science-olympiad competition and let those who were interested know when the first meeting would be. At that meeting, McKechney explained the different types of events students could compete in and allowed students to choose what events they wanted to participate in.
“They all got their first or second choices,” said McKechney, who is also director of religious education at St. Anne’s Parish in Palmyra and St. Gregory’s Parish in Marion.
Then the practices began, with students meeting for an hour each week after school to work on their projects and activities. Some students took to the stairwells to test the devices they’d built to protect an egg from breaking. Others constructed the lightest bridge they could that would still bear the heaviest possible load. Still more students labored to design and build a catapult that, when fired, came as close to hitting its target as possible.
“They love the building events. If they can build and drop and break stuff, they love that,” McKechney said. The students also especially liked the science crime event, in which they used their science skills to solve mock crimes the way real crime-scene investigators do, she added.
After competing in their first science olympiad competition in 2003, the St. Michael’s team came in 15th out of 25 teams competing, McKechney said. St. Michael’s was the only nonpublic school to send a team to the regional competition and placed higher than any of the other new teams, McKechney added.
On Feb. 14, the team from St. Michael’s entered the regional competition for the second year and did well, despite the fact that the competition was held on a holiday weekend and several team members couldn’t make it.
“They loved it. They can’t wait to do it again next year,” McKechney said.
McKechney has high hopes for the 2004-05 school year. Instead of again forming a team that meets for several months to practice for the annual competition, she would like to have the group meet regularly throughout the school year, starting in the fall.
Putting their knowledge to the test in a fun way has helped the students gain a better understanding of and expand upon the scientific principles they learn in class, McKechney said. Watching the students “get so excited about science, and seeing them test things out and come up with new ideas and use scientific principles” is her motivation to keep coaching the team.
“I really encourage all the Catholic schools to have one,” McKechney said.