When it comes to all things under the sea, some D.C. public high school students recently outsmarted peers in the region who have more oceanic experience.
Fourteen students from Ballou, Wilson and Woodson high schools recently represented the city’s public schools for the first time in the regional competition of the National Ocean Sciences Bowl. Each year, thousands of students from across the country participate in the competition, racing for their buzzers to show off their knowledge about marine science.
“They did well against schools that had competed before and there were a lot of close matches,” said Sarah Tilman, a biology teacher at Wilson.
Four Wilson students defeated a team from North Hagerstown High School in Western Maryland. Three Woodson students — with help from a stand-in from Ballou — ousted a team from Winston Churchill High School in Montgomery County, which ranked 42nd in the 2007 U.S. News & World Report’s list of 100 best high schools.
Last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration teamed with D.C. schools to start the New Millennium Observatory, or Nemo. The pilot program is intended to promote ocean literacy.
“We give D.C. schools the resources to get to the competition because it helps to direct careers, and it helps students to find something they’re passionate about,” said Laura Oremland, a NOAA scientist and the program coordinator.
Miss Oremland noticed that D.C. public schools were underrepresented at National Ocean Sciences Bowl competitions in the District.
Natalie Randolph, a biology teacher and sciences bowl coach at Woodson, said her students were intimidated at first by the quick buzz-ins from students at Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, whose science and technology school is ranked first nationally.
Out of the 10 teams competing this year Woodson finished sixth, Wilson came in eighth and Ballou ended up 10th. Regardless of the outcome, Miss Tilman said, “the competition got all of the D.C. schools pumped up and wanting to do better next time.”
NOAA has funded the Nemo after-school curriculum since January 2007, allowing about 30 D.C. students and teachers to take field trips to aquariums and research laboratories. The students have had the opportunity to learn from professionals, drag a net behind a boat and “find a fish or hold a crab, and dissect a fish to see the contents of its stomach,” Miss Tilman said.
Miss Randolph said the program “opens the world to inner-city kids by exposing them to science and different careers in science.”
“It opens doors for opportunities they might not have known were there,” she said.