I recently had the pleasure of stepping in as a coach to help my daughter’s team take part in the 2017 Science Olympiad. It was our first time participating, but likely, not the last. It was great to see junior high kids have so much passion for science and have such a great time participating.
We have a small school at St. Paul the Apostle in Grand Rapids, but we have had a great track record. This is largely due to our excellent science teacher, Dan O’Rourke, who has formed and carried the school team to many Olympiads over the years. We also have several other parents and high school students who coach. In some cases, the students teach themselves. We do what we can with the people and time we have.
This year, we competed in 19 of the 23 events offered. Most kids competed in two to four events, which is a big commitment. Even with our small size and not competing in all of the events, the kids managed to take 13th place overall, which is the second best our school has done. They brought home eight medals, including a first place medal in the Road Scholar event!
When I was in junior high, my science teacher sparked my interest in science and computers. I am grateful for Dan O’Rourke doing the same for so many years at St. Paul. The kids absolutely love him, and they have so much fun learning how much fun and how rewarding science can be.
While junior high is usually when teachers start piling on homework to get kids ready for high school, grooming their passion and love for learning is a more important endeavor. Science Olympiad is an excellent vehicle to help on this front, since it involves not only science, but math and and higher-level engineering tasks. It takes topics that are often mundane and gets kids solving real problems and having fun, as well.
Fueling Our Future
In recent years, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs have become a popular topic in lower-level schooling. STEM jobs are growing fast, and salaries are twice the median for occupations in general, per the STEM Education Coalition. However, while there is great need for individuals to fill jobs in STEM, companies are struggling to fill these positions.
It was very fun and rewarding to participate in Science Olympiad, and I encourage others to volunteer, as well. While school curricula have a ways to go to integrate higher-level STEM initiatives, Science Olympiad is an excellent way to help inspire kids to get on the right path early.