Helena High School won the state Science Olympiads competition last week, making it the high school with the most championships in Montana.
The school has won 10 championships in 32 years. At this year’s competition, area schools stood out in the competition held at Montana State University with more than 50 high school and 50 middle school teams. In addition to Helena High’s win, Capital High School narrowly took second place. C.R. Anderson won the middle school competition.
Science Olympiad has 14 events, with each 50 minutes long. Up to 15 students can be on a team, with students working in teams of two or three. Students spend hours with coaches and on their own time to build models and machines, practice lab skills and techniques, and research and practice to compete in events such as astronomy, optics, rocks and minerals, and ecology and forensics.
Seniors Devin Seyler and Emma Sihler each won three individual gold medals in addition to the team gold medal. Seyler took gold in astronomy and ecology while Sihler medaled in experimental design and materials science. The two worked together to win a gold medal in the optics event for the second year. They were tested on their understanding and application of lenses, mirrors and cameras. The second part of the test required using mirrors to shoot a laser at a target.
Now, Seyler and Sihler are looking forward to a second chance at the national competition in Fort Collins, Colorado. Seyler said they competed in optics together last year, but weren’t fully prepared.
“We’d like to do a lot better than we did,” he said. “I think we can get that worked out.”
Heath Caldwell, called a “freshman phenom” by his coaches, medaled in all of his events. He won a silver in forensics and a bronze in herpetology. Caldwell said he spent about 20 hours preparing for the competition and will do the same for nationals, which is a broad competition with more events.
“The rules are the same,” he said. “You just have to go more in-depth.”
Sihler said a big part of preparing for nationals is finding a way to pay for it. Each student will have to raise a certain amount of money to pay their way to Colorado next spring. The students already had to raise money to get to state by working shifts in the concession stand at sporting events.
Claire Pichette, one of the coaches, said this year’s team was a bit smaller than usual. Every member had to do at least two events and most competed in three, which meant less time to prepare. Regardless, Pichette said almost everyone finished in the top ten for their event. While individual students can stand out, Pichette said the competition is designed to require the entire team to score well to win.
“It’s not enough to have one or two people win,” she said. “You need the whole team to be able to put in effort.”
Pichette said the trip to nationals last year was only possible with support from the community. While students will have the option to raise money by working in concessions, the team will need about $6,000 for lodging, transportation, materials and fees. Donations can be sent to Helena High School Science Club at 1300 Billings Ave., Helena, MT 59601.