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Students take second place at Science Olympiad

Students from Sidney Gutierrez Middle School took second place at the State Science Olympiad on Feb. 22 at New Mexico Tech in Socorro, competing against the top 24 teams in the state. (Submitted Photo)

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Students in Jessica McGuire’s science class at Sidney Gutierrez Middle School joked and laughed Wednesday as they folded, taped and tore newspapers, forming them into hats, shoes, pants, shirts and accessories.

Behind the fun, though, the students were enhancing skills they’ve learned throughout the year that helped them win second place among 24 teams at the State Science Olympiad on Feb. 22 at New Mexico Tech in Socorro.

While the school’s Olympiad teams have usually done well, this was only the second time the charter school has finished in second place at state in the 11 years McGuire has been coaching the team.

Students on the state team were Cade Borner, Mary Olvera, Jonah Pinoñ, Caitlyn Prairie, Soren Rahlf, Caleb Ross, Marisa Russ, Kaden Sutton, Macy Woods, Nate Hillam, Noah Lynn, Avery Williams, Brendan Kelly, Megan Husby, Johnathan Steinback, Morgan Lucero, Mason Henington and Bridget Kelly.

The regional competition for southeast New Mexico — the largest region in the state, McGuire said — was Feb. 2 at New Mexico Military Institute. The school took the first-place trophy there, competing against 10 other schools.

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“We always do well in our region. We’ll place in the top three consistently,” McGuire said. “At state last year, we placed fifth, and the year before that we didn’t place in the top five. It’s nice when they do exceptionally well.”

The students begin practicing for the Olympiad almost from the start of the school year. The rules and guidelines for each of the 23 categories are made available in August or early September and the students can start working on how to obtain the goals of the projects.

Categories encompass different areas of science including health sciences, lab work, animal science and engineering. In the engineering categories, students build objects such as elastic-launched gliders and cars propelled by a mousetrap.

In the Road Scholar category, one of the two competitions in which the school took first place, team members had to plan a road trip, taking into account not only the route, but also planning for emergencies such as locating nearby hospitals in case of a crash.

In addition to science, students are learning valuable life skills, McGuire said.

“They have these really technical rules that the kids get, and they have to abide by the rules and learn how to read the right rules and manuals,” she said.

Teamwork and time management are also important lessons in the students’ success, McGuire said. Students work in teams of two or three — boys and girls and different grade levels are often combined in a team.

“It’s a good learning experience for them on how to get along with other people and share your ideas. It’s a huge time management thing because they have months to do this in, but there’s so much to do. We set calendars and they’ll set goals for what they do, and they are accountable to themselves,” McGuire said.

The students also raise funds through sponsorships to help pay for materials and travel costs.

With the regional and state competitions over, McGuire let her class decide what projects they wanted to work on the rest of the year. The newspaper clothing design was a popular choice.

“They made a list of everything they want to do in this class until the end of the semester and we organized what we think we can do. This was the first project they wanted to go with,” McGuire said.

The project is about more than just making things out of paper. The design had to include at least one aspect of technology.

“We did a whole pre-teaching thing about smart fabrics and how they help regulate your body temperature now and they even have fibers now that they weave into your clothes that monitor your heart rate,” she said.

The students brainstormed their ideas and used the newspapers to create life-sized models of how the outfits would look.

Monitoring health statistics is part of the chef’s outfit Carper Lackey and Aiden Rutler designed.

“The hat, it’s supposed to adjust to your head. You put it on and it adjusts to your head, like the size your head is. And the shoes do the same thing,” Carper said. “The apron, there’s a Fitbit kind of deal near your heart to see how warm your body is, how many steps you’ve taken, what your pulse is.”

Self-defense and safety are other ideas students incorporated in their projects.

Avery Williams, Serena Nunez and Gabriella Miranda designed a winter-themed outfit that includes a ring with a special purpose.

“You’re being assaulted or in danger, you need help, you press the ring and the emergency people will come to you,” Avery said.

Kaitlyn Prairie and Marisa Russ designed a similar function in the scrunchie with their outfit, and Soren Ralf and Nathan Hillam designed a shirt that would inflate to help protect the wearer from injury.

The hands-on projects help the students learn better, McGuire said.

“We’re really focusing on project-based learning and cycling and experiencing it and building on what I have and learning from my mistakes instead of just memorizing,” she said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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