BELFAST, Maine — Some students at Troy Howard Middle School have a special knack for doing things such as identifying fossils, building rockets and figuring out crime scenes.
That knack so far has led them to win first place at the State Middle School Science Olympiad Tournament. Now, if the 14 members of the school’s Science MAINEiacs can raise enough money, they will head in May to Madison, Wis., to compete in the National Science Olympiad Tournament.
“I think it’s going to be fun,” said 12-year-old Peter Spectre of Searsmont. “All the different events will be tough — it should be a little more challenging than just in Maine.”
The students are well on their way to raising the $13,000 needed for travel and other expenses to take part in the competition, thanks to the largesse of RSU 20 and the city of Belfast. School district officials have decided to allow the group $5,000, and at Tuesday night’s regular city council meeting, Belfast councilors voted to match that amount.
One student also reached out to Gov. Paul LePage to ask for his help getting to Wisconsin.
“We would appreciate any help that we can get from our state,” wrote sixth-grader Katy King of Belmont at the end of March.
LePage responded, sending King a hand-written note that offered his congratulations and help.
A parent said she believes the governor had been invited to participate in a coming spaghetti dinner fundraiser for the group.
Belfast city councilors expressed a few concerns about the size of the financial contribution that Councilor Eric Sanders requested during Tuesday night’s council meeting.
“We now have in our community a big, happy event that has some financial impact,” he said, before moving to contribute $5,000 for the team.
Councilor Marina Delune said that while it is “wonderful” that the kids are going to a national competition, it seemed like too much for the city to contribute to the cause.
Councilor Nancy Hamilton said she would support it just as a one-time thing.
“Six weeks is not a lot of time to raise the money,” she said.
The councilors then voted unanimously in favor of the $5,000 contribution.
Kim Spectre, Peter’s mom and a science mentor for the program, said Wednesday that the statewide win took the school somewhat by surprise. There were inklings of what could be, however, she said.
“We had a very small team last year, and we came in second,” she said. “We thought, next year, we might win the state, if we just had a few more kids.”
With 13 students participating in the March tournament at the University of Maine, the team placed in all 18 events, she said — and with no graduating eighth graders, parents figure that next year the team has a good chance of duplicating its success.
Any extra money that is raised for this year’s trip will be set aside as seed money for the program, Spectre said.
She attributed the strong science showing to Troy Howard Middle School teacher Jackie Kahn, who brought the Science Olympiad to the school.
“There is a really good science program,” Spectre said. “It really has made science and engineering so interesting to kids. For some kids, they like the idea of a competitive science program, to make it so it’s cool.”
Seventh-grader Lucie Bonneville, 12, of Belfast said she plans to keep on participating in the Olympiad in high school.
“I find it really interesting,” she said. “You get to learn about all kinds of different things and different animals.”
The pasta dinner will be held 5-7 p.m. Friday, May 6, at Troy Howard Middle School. The team also is raising money through http://www.indiegogo.com/Science-Olympiad-State-Championship-Event.