- Associated Press - Monday, May 9, 2016

YANKTON, S.D. (AP) - The science is strong in Yankton’s middle and high schools.

In March, the Yankton Middle School (YMS), Division B, and Yankton High School (YHS), Division C, Science Olympiad teams won the 32nd annual South Dakota Science Olympiad State Tournament held at the University of South Dakota. The teams will represent South Dakota at the National Science Olympiad Tournament May 20-21 at University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, Wisconsin, the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan (http://bit.ly/1Tn4kBJ ) reported.

YMS has participated in the Science Olympiad every year since the program began. YHS joined in 1986.

YMS seventh grade science teacher and Olympiad coach Cheryl Schaefer sees the event as an essential part of raising students’ interest in science.

“Its goals are to increase interest in science and motivate kids to do some academic competitions,” she said.

The Science Olympiad has 23 events for both middle and high school in subjects like chemistry, biology, physical science, earth science, etc. The areas of competition range from written tests, building events, crime scene investigation inspired events and food science events. Each event offers specific criteria in what should be accomplished. For example, in the Division C air trajectory event, students have to create a device that uses air pressure to launch a small ball into the air and hit a target.

“It’s not like a science fair where you get to pick and choose what you do,” Schaefer said.

Each November, middle school students interested in joined Science Olympiad begin working on their projects in the categories of their choice. In January, tryouts are held to determine which students will compete at the state Science Olympiad. Fifteen students and a few alternates are then selected.

According to YHS Science Olympiad coach and retired high school chemistry teacher Bob Medeck, the process of putting a high school team together is more difficult.

“The kids are so busy with other activities like plays and sports,” he said. “It’s difficult to keep 15-20 students together from November to May.”

Also, the material the Division C teams are expected to know goes above and beyond college-level material, he said.

“I attended a coach’s workshop where we were being taught how to teach the material to the students,” he said. “When we got into endocrinology, there was material there that had all of us baffled.

“It goes so far beyond what most people would know,” he added.

Medeck isn’t sure why the material is so much more difficult now than it was when YHS first joined Science Olympiad.

“In the 1980s, it was relatively simple,” he said. “Now, it’s gotten to the point where the people running it want to separate the bottom from the top. The tougher the test, the more it separates people.”

However, the harder material hasn’t completely removed the enjoyment of science from some students.

YHS sophomores Holly Hicks and Tanner Fitzgerald are enjoying preparing for Nationals in the aforementioned air trajectory category.

“I don’t like too many of the studying events, so I prefer the building events,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s fun to build your own things and see how they work.”

Hicks agrees.

“It’s an eye opener for people to see the things kids can make,” she said. “It’s good for kids to do because it helps with the future of them seeing where their strengths are at.”

YHS freshmen Katie Hammond and Leola Felton will give an oral presentation on their findings in the anatomy and physiology event.

“This year, the subject was on the muscular system and the skin, so we had to try to learn everything between elementary to college-level stuff,” Hammond said.

“We will explain the basics of what we do, what we have to study and what areas of the subject we need to know,” Felton added.

Being a part of Science Olympiad has increased Hammond’s interest in the subject, she said.

“When I was younger, I didn’t like science very much so I figured if I did this, it would help me with school,” she said. “It stuck with me and I found something I liked.”

The expo is an opportunity for the community to see what the students have been working on for the last several months.

“People can see what the Science Olympiad is about and what kind of skills these kids are coming out of it with,” Schaefer said.

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Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, http://www.yankton.net/

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