Mountain House High School, along with five of Lammersville Unified School District’s elementary schools, will be moving on to state finals after a sweeping victory in the county’s virtual Science Olympiad competition this year.

Mountain House High’s Blue and Silver varsity teams took first and fourth place in Science Olympiad’s Division C competition on March 6, besting 11 other competing high school teams. The top five slots in Science Olympiad’s Division B competition were filled by all LUSD schools, including Hansen Elementary School, whose gold and green teams placed in first and fifth, respectively.

“At any time you sweep the field in a competition, it's really the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. And it is a tremendous effort at multiple school sites, up from the kids first and foremost, but their parents are great teachers, and the site administration all kind of partner to build a program that is doing an extraordinary job. We're very proud.,” said LUSD Superintendent Kirk Nicholas.

Over 350 students in San Joaquin County competed this year, according to the San Joaquin County Office of Education. This is its 35th year hosting the competition.

“Science Olympiad tournaments are rigorous academic interscholastic competitions that consist of a series of individual and team events for which students prepare during the year. The competitions follow the format of popular board games, TV shows, and athletic games,” SJCOE described in a press release. “These challenging and motivational events are well balanced between the various science disciplines of biology, earth science, chemistry, physics, computers, and technology. There is a balance between events requiring knowledge of science facts, concepts, processes, skills, and science applications.”

Like many academic competitions across the state, Science Olympiad was done 100% virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This brought on some new challenges for teams, such as needing to coordinate practices online and not being able to meet in person for collaborative competitions. Students relied heavily on electronic communication, including group text messages and online meetings through Zoom or Google Hangout.

To adapt to the need for a digital competition platform, Science Olympiad organizers introduced an online application software called “Scilympiad,” developed by parents in southern California in 2016 to support San Diego’s regional competitions.

Its website describes Scilympiad as a “modular and customizable system with various functionalities, including school and team registration, event signup, volunteer signup, communications, online test creation, online test taking, grading, scoring, etc.”

Scilympiad was adopted for a statewide platform this year and is also used by teams in states like Arizona and Georgia.

“And, of course, with any new type of software, there's going to be glitches and hiccups. And so during some of our competitions, there were outages and some of the kids were saying that their tests weren't saving, or they weren't able to log in,” said Lisa Boulais, who coaches the Mountain House High School team. “On the day of the regional competition, there were no software glitches whatsoever. They really perfected the software throughout the year, and so it was a nice, smooth competition for regionals.”

“I think they've adapted really, really well. You know, it's been a hard year for all of us,” said Mena Parmer, who coaches the middle school team at Hansen Elementary in Mountain House. “Everything was new. Like, even for like the builds, we were using CAD programs that we've never used before.”

The key to the universal success of the LUSD Science Olympiad teams, according to Nicholas and the coaches is the community effort put into this program. School administrators, students and parents alike are all equally invested.

“Lammersville Unified, about nine or 10 years ago, made the commitment to Science Olympiad. And it grew on a grassroots level at each school site at varying paces. But everyone was determined to build a program that our kids really responded well to. And that's really what's happened,” he said.

LUSD starts its preparations for the Science Olympiad program at the elementary school level – which is the competition’s practice division – mentoring students all the way up to high school. Older students even give back by helping to mentor and coach the younger divisions.

“Even during this time of virtual learning and quarantine, the SJCOE has formulated an engaging day of showcasing all that we have learned throughout our months of studying. As a veteran Science Olympiad competitor, I am thankful for their hard work in supporting us in our endeavors to advance our knowledge of different scientific topics and provide more opportunities for us to engage with science in meaningful ways,” said Mountain House High junior Alicia Roice, who competed on the school’s Blue Varsity team. “I am grateful to have been part of this virtual tournament, and I am honored to be representing my school at the States Championships this year, along with several of my fellow talented teammates!"

The Science Olympiad state finals will take place virtually on April 17.

• Contact Brianna Guillory at bguillory@tracypress.com or 209-830-4229.

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