Area high school students put their science and math knowledge to the test on Sunday morning at the 2016 Virgin Islands Regional Science Bowl competition on St. Thomas.
Three teams – from St. Croix Central High, Charlotte Amalie High School and Antilles School – faced each other in a round robin. Charlotte Amalie High School planned to have a second team, but only had enough students present to form one.
Antilles School took first place after winning both of its matches. Charlotte Amalie High School took second with one win over St. Croix Central.
Placing first in the regional competition earns a spot at the upcoming National Science Bowl competition in Washington, D.C, at the end of April.
Organized by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the National Science Bowl draws more than 14,000 students each year with an aim of inspiring young people to pursue careers in science and math. Prizes for top-placing teams include adventure trips to Alaska and national parks, trophies, medals and school supplies.
Grasping their buzzers close, the four-person teams, each with one alternate, competed head to head in a fast-paced, question-and-answer format. The questions went beyond basic math and science knowledge, covering chemistry, physics, energy and biology material such as:
– If an acid is added to an unbuffered, neutral aqueous solution, which of the following is true? Answer: The hydroxide ion concentration decreases.
– What is the primary gaseous element of wood gas, a product of gasification? Answer: Nitrogen.
The couple dozen spectators, mostly teachers and parents, shared puzzled glances as the moderator read one tough question after another.
Gerald Walters, the V.I. district science coordinator who’s been involved with the Regional Science Bowl since 1997, said the competition is a good barometer of the condition of science education in the territory.
“It helps us know not only what students are remembering, but also gauges how strong their reasoning skills are. They won’t always know the right answer, but they should have the ability to reason and pick the best one,” Walters said.
Walters explained that teams from the Virgin Islands usually don’t win many matches at the National Science Bowl, because there aren’t many advanced placement and college classes available for high school students in the territory.
“It’s a good thing for the students to get out and see their peers from across the U.S. We’ve been promoting sports so much that this is a way to encourage our students who are interested in the sciences,” Walters said, adding that St. Croix usually has more teams participating in the competition but there’s been a lack of coaches.
Walters thanked the Water and Power Authority for sponsoring the competition since its inception. WAPA provides prizes and volunteers for the competition, since a number of judges, timekeepers, moderators and scorekeepers are necessary.
Lynnette Moreland, an outreach coordinator at WAPA, said that her agency “believes in STEM education and wants to support students in science and math, which is closely tied to the kind of work WAPA does.”
“I hold really high interest in seeing that all of our students can be exposed to STEM-related fields, which is why I volunteer for events like this,” moderator April Phillips, V.I. state manager at the Florida and the Islands Regional Comprehensive Center, said.
According to a press release from the DOE and to Walters, many of the student competitors pursue science-based careers, with a number going on to be engineers, doctors and research scientists.
Alan Eberhart, a teacher at Antilles School and the coach of its team, said this year was the first time his school has competed in ten years, because the school didn’t have a coach until now. To prepare for the competition, Eberhart’s students met with him to practice during their lunch periods for the last couple months.
All five of the Antilles School’s winning team members, David Newhard, Jonatan Woods, Shivaan Chawla, Camren Bunn and Avinash Nagpal, said they plan to pursue science majors when they start college next school year.
Woods, who wants to build on his science education and use advanced agriculture to help solve world hunger, said, “I like science, because it explains the things you can’t understand.”