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A Wayzata Central Middle School team took first place in the Minnesota Regional Middle School Science Bowl. The students, Rahul Billakanti, Khoa Le, Pratyay Manepalli, Aaratrika Mondal and Pughazh Saravanan, will compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Middle School Science Bowl this spring, which will also be a virtual event. Also pictured is team coach Kris Swartchick. (Screen capture)

Students will compete virtually in national competition this spring

For the third year in a row, a team from Wayzata Central Middle School has taken first place in the Minnesota Regional Middle School Science Bowl.

The tournament, hosted Feb. 13 by the Minnesota Academy of Science, ran in a virtual format in which students competed in teams to solve technical problems and answer questions in all branches of science and math.

The students, Rahul Billakanti, Khoa Le, Pratyay Manepalli, Aaratrika Mondal and Pughazh Saravanan, will advance to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Middle School Science Bowl this spring, which will also be a virtual event due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Science Bowl coaches for Wayzata Central are Polly Laugen, Kris Swartchick and student coach Arreh Jain, who is a sophomore at Wayzata High School and a former Central Middle School student.

Wayzata Central had dominating performances overall in the regional competition, with two additional teams from the school placing second and third. A team from Wayzata West Middle school came in fourth place.

At the high school level, Wayzata High took first place in the 2021 regional competition, making it the fourth year in a row a team from the school has taken the top spot in the Minnesota Regional High School Science Bowl.

The prize for first place is entry into the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Science Bowl, which is typically hosted in Washington, D.C. This year’s event will be hosted in a virtual format in April and May.

The virtual competitions are in the place of in-person events due to the pandemic. Instead of head-to-head competition, student teams answer questions and team scores are compared to determine who advances to the next level of competition.

“I think they adapted really well,” coach Laugen said. “And I think it added more of a teamwork collaboration piece as opposed to an individual who-knows-the-answer-first mentality.”

Among the winning team are first-year Science Bowl students Mondal, a seventh-grader, and Manepalli, a sixth-grader.

Mondal said some aspects of the virtual format were difficult, but it also helped to reduce the pressure of having to go head-to-head against other participants. 

As part of the school’s Science Bowl leadership team, Mondal helped create practice packets and worked to assign students to focus on certain topics that they felt most comfortable with.

“After we did a few practice days, we figured out who has strengths in which areas,” she said. “I took the math portion because I think that’s where I do the best.”

Manepalli said he focused on his favorite areas of space and energy science.

“We kind of divided and conquered,” Manepalli said, adding that he’s disappointed he won’t take the trip to Washington, D.C. for an in-person competition but is hopeful he’ll get the chance in the coming years.

“I’m really excited,” he said.

 

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