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Turlock Junior High places first in Regional Science Olympiad
TJHS Science Olympiad
The Turlock Junior High School Science Olympiad team, which included 15 members and three alternates, placed first at the 31st Annual Stanislaus County Regional Science Olympiad. - photo by Photo Contributed

Judging by the results of the 31st annual Stanislaus County Regional Science Olympiad, it might be hard to believe that just a few years ago Turlock Junior High School didn’t even have a Science Olympiad team. Once the program was revived at the junior high by a couple of parents three years ago, however, students not only proved themselves to be worthy contenders against their more experienced opponents, but surpassed them altogether by winning first place during this year’s competition.

“I think it’s amazing that we haven’t been doing Science Olympiad very long at Turlock Junior High School, but in our third year we got first place at regional,” said eighth grader Mitchell Amos.

“It feels really cool because all of our hard work paid off,” added seventh grader Julia Carlson. “Just to the see the giant trophy and knowing that everybody was a part of working to win first place makes it worth it.”

More than 550 students from junior high schools and high schools throughout Stanislaus County participated this year’s Science Olympiad, which took place in Modesto on March 4. The day-long event consisted of individual and team events that encouraged learning in biology, earth science, chemistry, physics, problem solving and technology. Some events required knowledge of scientific facts and concepts, while others relied on science processes, skills or application. Several events also required students to build devices prior to the competition.

Both Carlson and Amos aren’t strangers to the Science Olympiad as they said they first were inspired by their siblings to get involved with the program in third grade.

“My older sister had gone to Science Olympiad and she seemed to have a lot of fun doing it so I thought I would try it too,” said Carlson. “I also just like the different things that you can do that are fun and interesting to learn about.”

“I used to go to my sister’s Science Olympiad meetings at Walnut and when I went to Julien, they had a Science Olympiad there so I decided to join,” added Amos.

During this year’s regional Science Olympiad, Carlson competed in three different events: Disease Detectives, which focuses on epidemiology, the study of diseases and how they spread; Wright Stuff, which involves making, testing and flying an airplane with the goal of achieving the longest flight duration; and Crime Busters, which tasks students with identifying perpetrators of a certain crime by identifying unknown powders.

“So, you have these powers and you don’t know what they are so you have to do tests and see how they interact with hydrochloric acid, how they interact with iodine, so they did all this research in advance so that when they went in they were ready,” said her mother Lori Carlson, who is a Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustee member and one of the TJHS Science Olympiad coaches.

Amos competed in four different events: Optics, which deals with geometric and physical optics; Food Science, which focuses on testing the chemical and physical knowledge of grain products; Invasive Species, which tests participants on invasive species found throughout the United States; and Scrambler, which involved designing and building a device that transports an Egg Transport Vehicle with a Large Grade A uncooked chicken egg mounted to its front along a track as fast as possible.

“In Food Science, we had to build a calorimeter to test how many calories are in a piece of food,” said Amos. “In Scrambler, we had to build a launcher to launch a car with an egg on it as close to a wall as possible without breaking the egg.”

Carlson placed first in Disease Detectives, second in Crime Busters, and third in Wright Stuff, while Amos placed first in Optics and Food Science, second in Scrambler, and fourth in Invasive Species.

“I just like learning new stuff because most of the stuff I didn’t really know anything about it so it was really interesting,” said Carlson. “In two of my events you had to solve stuff so it was cool using information that I learned and using logic to figure out the answer.”

“I enjoyed learning the different subjects, but my favorite part was actually going to the competition and getting to hang out with my friends all day,” added Amos.

Lori Carlson said that each of the 15 team members had to compete in at least three events this year. Of the 23 events, the TJHS team placed in 19.

“All of our kids competed very successfully,” said Carlson. “I’ve been proud every year of the kids’ hard work and I think every year we’ve developed a better idea of what it takes to be a successful competitor.”

Carlson, who revived the Science Olympiad program at the junior high three years ago with fellow parent Kim Hawley, partnered with STEM teacher Donna Creighton for the first time this year to coach the school’s team.

“All of the young people there did an amazing job. I know there was a lot of effort that went into all of the teams” said Creighton. “One thing that I appreciated about this team is their parents kicked in and not only taught their own kids information, but also taught other people’s children based on their area of expertise.”

This year’s Science Olympiad was sponsored by the Stanislaus County Office of Education, Modesto Junior College and the Education Foundation of Stanislaus County. MJC biology professor Derek Madden and SCOE Student Events Program Coordinator Cheryl Goulart coordinated the event. More than 150 volunteers judged or assisted with the competition.