Quaker Valley Science Olympiad teams immerse students in science, technology

Bobby Cherry
| Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Entering eighth grade in the fall, Carson Riker already knows his career will be related to science.

Thanks to the Sewickley teen's work with Quaker Valley Middle School's Science Olympiad program, Carson said he's leaning toward the medical field.

He was one of 25 sixth- through eighth-grade students who participated with the school's teams in regional and state competitions.

Quaker Valley's middle and high school teams placed 10th and 18th in the Pennsylvania Science Olympiad – earning 11 medals – last month at Juniata College. Each team competed among a field of 36 teams from throughout the commonwealth.

Science Olympiad competitions challenge students and their coaches to complete events focusing in science and technology fields, such as genetics, earth science, chemistry, anatomy, physics, geology, mechanical engineering and technology.

For Carson, the ability to learn beyond what he is taught daily in a science classroom is important.

“I like learning all of these things that I'd have no way of accessing in a regular classroom,” he said.

Quaker Valley's middle school teams are made up mostly of parent volunteers who serve as coaches, said Rob Riker, who served as a coach this year and is the father of Carson Riker. Rob Riker serves as vice president of the Quaker Valley school board.

Parents who coach work in, or have experience in, the fields that are part of the Science Olympiad, Rob Riker said.

“We have this incredible community of very high-level enthusiasts,” he said. “We can put these kids interested in chemistry with full time chemists.

“It's a powerful way to help the kids find their enthusiasm and fuel them, and not only let them take it to an incredible level academically, but to really get them immersed in the subject matter.”

Teams begin organizing in the fall and work throughout the school year on assigned projects.

Noah Wiggins, who will enter eighth grade in the fall, said the chance he has to learn about anatomy has strengthened his idea of entering the medical field.

One of the lessons he took from participating had more to do with the science of planning and less to do with anatomy.

As a middle-schooler, hockey player and member of multiple events for the olympiad, Noah Wiggins said he learned the value of time management.

“It was a lot of work,” he said, estimating that he spent at least 70 hours working on the Science Olympiad. “You don't just learn science, but how to organize your daily life based on activities.”

Both Noah and Carson agreed, though, that it was time well spent.

“It required all of the time on weekends, but I enjoyed all of it, so it didn't really seem like work,” Carson said.

Parent and volunteer coach Laura McKee, whose soon-to-be eighth-grade son, Ross, participated and husband, Don, coached, said the Science Olympiad allows parents to grow their skill levels.

“You become more of a teacher and if you aren't one, you have to learn how to become,” she said. “A lot of parents coach soccer. But it's different to coach someone on science.”

McKee said the program can help children to understand how infused technology has become in everyday life.

“Most kids will not be a professional athlete, but a high percentage of kids will go into a career related to technology,” she said. “You're most likely going to have to have some understanding of how technology works. Kids should have these opportunities to decide where they're going to go.”

Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or rcherry@tribweb.com.

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