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OHS Eyes Regional Science Olympiad Prizes
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OHS senior Emily Bradley, left, anxiously watches as event partner, junior Katie Schultz, pours sand into a bucket for weight on a wooden lever as they practice the Boomilever event in preparation for the upcoming Science Olympiad. Dawn M. Henley/The Leader

More than 550 students representing area junior and senior high schools will participate in a day-long event that showcases their scientific knowledge on March 1.

Young scientists from throughout the region, including a number representing Oakdale High School and Oakdale Junior High School, are preparing for the 28th Annual Stanislaus County Regional Science Olympiad, which takes place at the Modesto Junior College West Campus Science Center. The event begins at 8:30 a.m. and wraps with an Awards Ceremony at 4:30 p.m. held inside the Agriculture Pavilion. The public is invited to attend. Admission and parking are free.

Oakdale High School is sending two teams, the Gold team and the Red team, to the Science Olympiad where the team members will compete in more than 20 different events. The Gold team is the lead team and is comprised of 15 members. The Red team has approximately 10 members and is still seeing some “shuffling” said OHS Science Olympiad team coach and science teacher Cameron Nickerson. He reported that there are a lot of juniors and seniors on the Gold team and the Red team is mixed, so the OHS contingent looks good for the next couple of years.

“I think we’re in good shape to do really well this year,” Nickerson said. “We’ve got a lot more dedication than we did last year.”

He added that no one is “slacking off” and he feels that they have a good shot a first place but one never knows because there are surprises and unknowns. He also said that he anticipates the team being able to move on to the state contest again and hopes for some medals at state, as well.

“The plan every year is to improve, but things don’t always go as planned,” Nickerson shared. “…We’ve got a real spirit of cooperation, so we’re training down and that’s always good for future years.”

The top four teams in the county will go on to the state competition. OHS has advanced to the state contest for the past five consecutive years, taking first place at the regional contest two of those years.

Nickerson reported that for the first time, OHS took part this year in an invitational Science Olympiad in Southern California. He said they were “soundly routed” but really learned a lot. He said the spirit of the event was a friendly competition so it was really focused on how the teams could do better.

“The more you practice, the better you get,” he said.

OHS also has a team captain for the first time this year as part of its new organization. Trevor White is serving in that role. Many OHS team members are also competing in four or more events.

The Regional Science Olympiad consists of individual and team events that encourage learning in biology, earth science, chemistry, physics, problem solving and technology. Some events require knowledge of scientific facts and concepts, while others rely on science processes, skills or application. Several events require students to build devices prior to the competition, such as Boomilever. For Boomilever, the goal is to hold as much sand as possible in a container suspended from a lightweight “bridge.”

“We’re still trying to work out kinks in the design,” Nickerson said.

He reported that the first bridges the students built weighed about 30 grams and they’ve gotten them down to less than 10 grams. The goal is to have it hold 15 kilos of sand, which is a little over 30 pounds.

Another build-in-advance device is Mag Lev, where the competitors make a magnetically levitating vehicle that propels itself within a certain time window. Senior Alex Rodriguez who competes on the Gold team is a Science Olympiad veteran, having been on the team all four years at OHS. Mag Lev is one of several events he entered into this year and it’s one he’s done before. So far this year he and his event partner have made four vehicles, with plans to make more, to see which designs will work best. They’re allowed to enter two vehicles in the event.

“Our failure last time was that it didn’t move,” he recalled. “We want it to move down the track and get it as close to the target time as possible.

“I want to do good. I want to contribute to the team,” Rodriguez said. “Maybe bring home some medals – that would be nice. I want us to work and for it to pay off.”

Oakdale Junior High School also has a team set to compete in the junior high/middle school portion of the event. OJHS coach Linda Metcalf reported that they are sending one team comprised of 15 students.

“We have an enthusiastic group of primarily seventh graders, 13 (of them), making their first trip to the Olympiad,” she said.

In the high school division, aside from OHS, the following high schools are also participating: Beyer, Central Catholic, Ceres, Connecting Waters, Denair, Downey, Enochs, Gregori, Hart Ransom Charter, Johansen, Modesto Christian, Modesto, and Vanguard.

The other junior high/middle school participants are: Blaker-Kinser, Connecting Waters, Denair, Hart-Ransom, Hart-Ransom Charter, Hickman Charter, La Loma, Our Lady of Fatima, Prescott, Riverbank Language, Savage, St. Stanislaus, Ustach and Vanguard Academy.

The top four teams in each division advance to the Northern California (Nor Cal) Science Olympiad State Finals. This year’s state Science Olympiad will be hosted by the Sacramento Region and is scheduled for Saturday, April 12 at California State University, Stanislaus in Turlock.