NORTH KINGSTOWN—When Wickford Middle School teacher Nancy LaPosta-Frazier talks about the members of her Science Olympiad team this year, she can’t help being impressed by their focus and dedication.
“I’ve been blessed with the group I have,” she says. “They come in, we have snack time from 2:30 p.m.-2:45 p.m., they eat their animal crackers and then we get down to business.”
And business, it appears, is about to pick up.
With a total team score of 68 points during last month’s Rhode Island Science Olympiad tournament, Wickford Middle School edged perennial favorite Barrington by one point to finish first overall in the state and that earned the small group a coveted spot in the national tournament, which will be held next weekend on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
It will be the first time a team from Wickford Middle School has competed in nationals during LaPosta-Frazier’s 15-year tenure with the program and she feels it couldn’t have happened to a better group of kids.
“This group is pretty special,” she says. “In 2008, we were second; in 2009, we were second; in 2010 we were third and [this year] they broke through the ceiling”
What sets this group of students apart from previous teams, LaPosta-Frazier says, is their determination.
“Basically, they were mature enough to come in here and get the work done,” she explains. “That’s the biggest thing, the idea of being able to be a team. That old saying ‘there’s no ‘I’ in the word team’? They understood that right from the start and they understood that if they did their best to help the team, then that would get them far.”
Seventh grader Brandon Morris is one of the 15 students on the WMS Science Olympiad team. With a scientist for a father and a brother who was once a part of the program, there was never any question Morris would one day be sitting in LaPosta-Frazier’s classroom working on events like the junkyard challenge, a task where teams must create a device on-site that uses just the materials and tools that fit in a “junk box” with a lid.
But even with the extensive family background in science, Morris could have never imagined he’d take away as much as he has from the program..
“I’ve learned so much about designing and building and making something out of nothing,” he says.
The same goes for eighth grader Rachel Douglas, who competes in an event called ‘Tower Building’ that tests teams on their ability to “design and build the most efficient tower” according to the University of Wisconsin’s official tournament site.
“It’s been extremely rewarding,” she said. “It’s been so much fun.”
For LaPosta-Frazier’s group, competing at the state tournament was a goal five months in the making.
Nearly every afternoon since late November, the group has gathered in a small classroom at WMS for an hour or two working out problems as a group and doing their best to study all of the rules and procedures outlined in massive booklets.
But it was all worth it on the afternoon of April 9th.
“It was really exciting because what they did was they called third and everyone on our team thought ‘Well, maybe we’re second’,” sixth grader Lydia Sgouros explains. “And then they called second and everyone knew what that meant so we all started cheering.”
“I personally thought we would get second or third because Barrington’s a really good school and us getting first was amazing,” Douglas says. “When they called Barrington for second, I almost couldn’t breathe. I was like ‘oh, my god, what if we got first? And we did.’”
In the time since they finished first at states, the Wickford team has been working harder than ever to bone up on the skills needed in the 26 scored events at nationals but, more than ever, they’re trying to keep their expectations in check and savor every moment.
“I’m really excited to go and there’s going to be a lot of teams there that are really good, so I’ll be happy with whatever we get,” says eighth-grader Nathan Ackermann.
For LaPosta-Frazier, it doesn’t matter what happens next weekend competition-wise. As long as her students do their best, she’ll be happy.
“It’s an exciting time,” she says. “My goal is to make sure the kids have fun. They will be serious, they will do their jobs , but I want them not to be overwhelmed or to be too stressed about it. I want them to enjoy this because this will be something they remember for the rest of their lives.