Five Blue Valley West High School seniors are headed to the National Science Bowl competition next month.
Blue Valley West’s A team — Carter Stout, Chandler Conn, Shyam Narayanan, Gavin Zhu and Luisa Galhardo — won the Regional National Science Bowl competition against 12 other high school teams from Kansas at Avila University in Kansas City. The school captured the award for a fourth straight year.
“It is a reaffirmation of our commitment to the competitions as well as math and science,” Stout said.
Blue Valley West will be one of 118 middle and high schools to compete at nationals on April 30 through May 4 in Washington, D.C.
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The students from West are ecstatic, as four of the five members from the A team have been to nationals before and know what is to come.
“Going back to the national competition is something I have looked forward to the entire year,” Conn said. “It is so much fun being in an environment for five days where you are surrounded by thousands of students who are devoted like you, because you don’t get that in a normal high school setting.”
The top 16 high schools at nationals will win $1,000 for their schools’ science departments. The National Science Bowl’s website says that this year’s prize for the top two teams will be announced later, but usually includes a five-day trip where the students learn more about science.
The National Science Bowl requires students to solve technical problems and answer questions about different facets of science, such as biology, chemistry, earth and space science, physics and mathematics. Schools go head-to-head against other teams, are given a question and the first one to buzz in with the correct answer receives a point. Students go through approximately 30 questions at the site of the competition.
The Blue Valley West students practice at least an hour every Tuesday. Practice sessions consist 25 questions.
“Because of the various categories, fortunately we all relatively have some sort of knowledge in a lot of the categories of science,” Narayanan said. “It helps us out in the competitions because we have at least one person who is an expert at that specific subject and can get the answer quickly.”
The students credit their success to their teacher and coach, Fern Bretch, a chemistry teacher. They practice in her classroom each week.
Once a question is answered during practice, right or wrong, she outlines the details to make sure her students know how to find the correct answer.
“She really is a cornerstone of why our team is so cohesive and works so well together in being so successful,” Zhu said. “She tells us what we need to know.”
Bretch, who has taught at Blue Valley West for 11 years and has taken her school to nationals nine times, gives a lot of credit to her students for their preparation and execution. Also, the science and mathematics instructors at the high school have a hand in helping her team flourish.
“They give them great support and good background information,” Bretch said. “The students know a lot and work well together.”
With the regional competition in the rear-view mirror, the students will ramp up practice a bit as they head to the national stage.
For Galhardo, this will be her first time making the trip to D.C. and competing in nationals.
“Winning regionals was exciting because I have never been to nationals and I have heard from my teammates that it is really fun,” she said. “Now I get to compete there.”
While the students are excited, they also want to focus on the task at hand. The group of five will all graduate in May and they want to leave a big footprint before walking the stage.
Bretch notes that her A team is a highly motivated group.
While the five members of the A team will move on and graduate, Blue Valley West has a reason to be optimistic for years to come at NSB competitions.
The B team at Blue Valley West also participated at regionals and took down archrival Blue Valley High School, which has been West’s biggest competition over the years.
“There’s not only a good team of incoming seniors,” Stout said. “But there is a good core of underclassmen who will fill in well and carry on our legacy.”