Science Olympiad students support middle schoolers

Mentor Alexa Villatoro (left) demonstrates an experiment to mentees for the Crimebusters event.
Photo By: Ryan Lipour

For many years, students from the RAHS Science Olympiad team have been dedicating their time to mentoring Chinook Middle School (CMS) Science Olympiad students.

Scott McComb, the Science Olympiad coach at RAHS, hopes the program will get middle schoolers excited about the competition.

“The goal of the Science Olympiad mentor program is to encourage and inspire other schools to get enthusiastic and be successful at Science Olympiad,” said McComb.

The program is not only benevolent, but also useful for the RAHS Science Olympiad team.

“Part of [the reason we have the program] is because we love Science Olympiad, part of it is not entirely altruistic,” said McComb. “We have a number of people who come from those programs, the middle school program, into our high school program.”

Shawn Connolly, the Science Olympiad coach at CMS believes that student mentors use their past experience with Science Olympiad in helping their mentees.

“The [mentors] do a couple of things,” said Connolly.  “Partly, on these days they help to check in with individual students especially with events that they some experience with. So some of the RAHS students have a lot more experience with crimebusters and they’ve been doing it for 3 years, so they’re getting set up to show some students how to do some of the techniques.”

Student mentors also assist Connolly in the organization of events for the mentees.

“We had a self-invitational competition this past saturday [4 November 2017],” said Connolly, “and a couple of the mentors helped to pull together and organize that and run some of the events as well as find the tests and pull together materials. All that kind of stuff.”

CMS Olympian Raymond Nguyen is an 8th grade mentee who decided to join Science Olympiad and fell in love with the competition.

“I decided to join because it seemed fun and I wanted something to do after school. I also wanted to compete for my school,” said Nguyen. “It’s really fun to work with other people to make stuff and compete around the country.”

Nguyen believes the mentors are beneficial to his success in Science Olympiad.

“I think they’re pretty helpful,” said Nguyen. “One of the mentors that worked on towers awhile ago helped me with the tower build because I had certain parameters that changed up this year, so they gave me some ideas to help make my tower better. They told me how to support the tower and how to use the materials efficiently.”

Mentors’ past notes also helped Nguyen with a study event.

“Another person who did a study event gave me their notes,” said Nguyen, “so I could actually study and see what their studying techniques were.”

RAHS sophomore Olympian Andreah Elvirah, a former Chinook student in the CMS Science Olympiad program, is a mentor.

“I decided to do [the mentor program] because my brother is on the team,” said Elvirah. “I know a lot of the students on the team, so it let me spend more time with them. I also really like Science Olympiad at CMS; it’s a place to make really good friends.”

While the mentor program is only comprised of 3 RAHS Students, CMS alumni also participate.

“Officially, there are only 3 [mentors] from Raisbeck,” said Elvirah. “But some people who used to be on Chinook’s Science Olympiad team still mentor even though they’re not on Aviation’s team.”

RAHS mentors propel their students towards success by creating a useful studying and preparation structure for Chinook students.

“We meet with [Mr. Connolly] and we set up google drives; one between the mentors and one for the students with class material,” said Elvirah. “We also help them organize their notes, and we tutor them in concepts they aren’t grasping yet.”

Axel Elvirah, Andreah Elvirah’s younger brother, is a student at CMS and a mentee.

“I decided to join because my sister encouraged me to,” said Axel, “and because I’m interested in science.”

While Axel doesn’t ask the mentors for help very often, he can see why they are helpful.

“I’m not the type of person who likes getting help from people,” said Axel. “I like solving problems by myself. For other people I can see how a mentor’s help could be useful. But I’ve gotten help from my sister with organizing my notes.”

Axel is also excited about possibly coming to Aviation next school year

“I’m excited about applying to Aviation,” said Axel. “I wanna do Science Olympiad there if I get accepted.”

Senior Erik Harang spearheads the mentor program, initially joining out of interest.

“I think I was just kind of interested,” said Harang. “I mean obviously you have to get the volunteer hours but I was generally just interested in seeing what people were doing at the middle school level for Science Olympiad.”

Harang never experienced Science Olympiad in middle school, but he found it to be intriguing

“I went to Pacific Middle School so we didn’t have a Science Olympiad team,” said Harang. “So I just did robotics in middle school and I really wanted to see what middle school Science Olympiad was about. Once I started I was like ‘oh this is really cool and interesting, I wanna be involved in helping out.’”

Now involved with Science Olympiad at both the high school and middle school level, Harang doesn’t see himself leaving the competition anytime soon.

“To be honest, I really really love Sci Oly,” said Harang. “I’m planning on staying involved even at the college level. I’m not totally sure where I’m going to school but a lot of the schools I’m looking at are still involved in SciOly. I personally just help out of a passion for SciOly and I really like to see young people do well in it as well.”

Being that the program has been active for several years, some mentored students are currently in Science Olympiad at RAHS, bringing their experience from middle school with them.

“In some of the builds events you tangibly get way better but I think beyond that, and more importantly, is that [the mentees] can develop more long term skills they can use,” said Harang.  “We’re now starting to have people who have been in Science Olympiad at CMS and who are now doing Science Olympiad at RAHS and they’ve had all this time to build their skills so they come into Aviation Science Olympiad with a lot of experience.”

One of these mentored students is freshman olympian Noah Dooley.

“I worked with Noah and I think that having the CMS mentors helped him understand his topic which was anatomy,” said Andreah. “It definitely helped him organize all of his notes because anatomy has a lot of information.”

Dooley agrees that the mentors at Chinook assisted in his learning.

“Back in 7th grade, the mentors helped us out with [anatomy] because there were some parts we didn’t understand because they were way over my head,” said Dooley. “The mentors explained the different concepts to us concisely. It was like having an actual teacher in front of you instead of reading off the internet.”

Dooley also believes the program braced him for the workload of RAHS

“I feel really good about my workload now,” said Dooley. “It’s nothing we weren’t told about.”

McComb believes that the program also allows growth for both the mentors and the mentees.

“Well I think anytime you have a chance to ask someone who is just a little bit better than you how to do something there is tremendous growth,” said McComb, “both for the person who is learning as well as the person who is teaching.”

The mentors recent experiences allow for understanding that may not come from a teacher.

“The high school students are close enough in age that they remember what it’s like to be a novice in a way that a teacher may not,” said McComb. “They’ve been doing it for so long it’s like ‘of course you do it this way’, whereas someone who’s just recently learned is like ‘oh actually I remember real clearly when I was in your shoes, these are the things I struggled with.”

Because of this, the mentor program helps both students and mentors.

“And then of course there’s this whole notion that when you teach something it’s actually the best way to learn something. So I think there’s a benefit to both the high school students and middle school students.”

The mentor program also allows mentors to practice their leadership skills.

“[Erik] has always been an amazing student and really diligent,” said McComb. “And I think it really helped him hone his leadership skills, or certainly in the realm of science olympiad. It’s fun to see Andreah and Alexa step up this year. It’s a chance to practice guiding others. It’s a chance to practice being a leader.”

Scroll to top