From left to right, top row: Teacher-coach Sue Kareken; Nancy Wehner, first-grade and Jodie Wehner, second-grade. Bottom row: Coach Dena Royal and Ava Youngsman, second-grade. (Contributed photo)

From left to right, top row: Teacher-coach Sue Kareken; Nancy Wehner, first-grade and Jodie Wehner, second-grade. Bottom row: Coach Dena Royal and Ava Youngsman, second-grade. (Contributed photo)

Elementary school STEM team wins first place award

  • Sun May 17th, 2020 1:30am
  • Life

Submitted by San Juan Island School District

Friday Harbor Elementary School students brought home first place in the national 2020 ExploraVision Competition. The national winners were announced on May 7. Winning first place-winning for the grades of kindergarten through third was FHES students Jodie Wehner, second-grade; Ava Youngsman, second-grade; and Nancy Wehner, first-grade for their project, “Get Away! Bacteriophage.” Earlier this spring, three FHES STEM teams had received regional and honorable mention recognition for work submitted to this competition sponsored by the National Science Teaching Association and the Toshiba Company.

As first-place winners, Jodie, Ava and Nancy each won a $10,000 savings bond for education, an iPad, and an Echo dot along with an expense-paid trip to Washington, DC for an ExploraVision awards weekend. The trip was canceled due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, there will be a virtual ceremony on June 5 that will include surprise guests from around the world.

The students developed their idea with the help of their teacher-coach Susan Kareken and mentor Dena Royal. As stated in their materials, “… Warmer water temperatures cause harmful algae blooms to grow. This can harm starfish, sharks, fish, dolphins and especially coral. The Get Away! Bacteriophage mini-submarine will detect if the harmful algae bloom levels are getting high enough to be dangerous to these animals. If so, then it will release phages that will kill the harmful blooms.”

According to their coach, Sue Kareken, “We went into this thinking it would be fun just to get students thinking about real-world problems and maybe come up with some solutions. It is truly overwhelming that we won! And what a great surprise during this crazy time. It shows that students, with perseverance can make a difference in the world.”

The three elementary school teams started projects in September, working before and after school and on weekends with teacher Susan Kareken and mentors Dena Royal and Ayla Ridwan. Submissions consisted of a research paper and five webpages on paper.

Honorable Mention was awarded to the top 5-10 percent of projects nationwide — Two of them for FHES teams. One of these teams included third-graders Theron Holden and Orion Marcy. Their project is titled “DC Pods.”

A second Honorable Mention Team included third-graders Azalea Ross; Jessie Valencia; Nadya Troutman; and Kaylee Staudt, with their project titled “Odrone.”

As the competition’s website states, “The ExploraVision competition for K-12 students engages the next generation in real world problem solving with a strong emphasis on STEM. ExploraVision challenges students to envision and communicate new technology 20 years in the future through collaborative brainstorming and research of current science and technology.”

Friday Harbor Elementary School Principal Caspar van Haalen said, “Not only does this exceptional award recognize the talented budding scientists that submitted their projects; it also represents an incredible level of academic curiosity and care about our island environment nurtured within our elementary school learning community. I am extremely proud of the students and staff!”

For more information about the ExploraVision competition, visit https://www.exploravision.org/.