Tuesday, April 18, 2006

An Anna Venger Exclusive: DE's TSHS Science Olympiad Team

For many years of Delaware's involvement in Science Olympiad, H.B. Dupont Middle School has been a consistent first place winner. Last spring, the Wilmington News Journal did a very positive feature story on the H.B. team before their trip to Illinois for competition on the National level. They've worked hard and developed a winning program there.

Another Delaware team, however, was also invited to compete at the National level last May. That team was Tri-State Home School. They had won third place, and since the National rules stipulate that a state cannot send more than one team from a single school to Nationals, H.B. Dupont did not send their second place team; Tri-State sent their homeschool students to Illinois where they competed admirably for a first time experience. Two of the homeschooled students received a third place medal for a joint event, and another received a sixth place medal in an event he competed in individually. H.B. also won two medals at Nationals last year.

This year was "like deja vu all over again", as Yogi Berra would say. On the afternoon of Saturday, March 25, 2006, a packed auditorium at Delaware State University heard the announcer say, "The third place team will be going to Nationals with the first place team again, and that team is Tri-State Home School."

Tri-State Home School has been fielding a middle school Science Olympiad team in Delaware for about six or seven years of Delaware's twenty plus year history of involvement with this organization. Tri-State has been steadily climbing in their standing, placing ninth place in 2004, third place in 2005, and third place again in 2006.

Wondering how a group of homeschooled students could pull off such a feat, I tracked down a member of this year's team, and one from last year's, who agreed to speak with me, confidentially.

Tri-State Home School's Science Olympiad teams (this year they had two for the first time) are comprised of a loose collection of homeschooled students belonging to theTri-State Home School Network (TSHSN). Students ranged in grade from sixth through ninth with fifteen students on one team and twelve on the other. One team had five returning ninth graders which is permitted by Science Olympiad rules.

How does a group of loosely connected kids prepare for a state and national competition without their own building? Parents treat Science Olympiad like any other school subject and seek out resources to enable their children to study for or to build for their events. While TSHSN has accumulated some supplies and resources which can be shared amongst the different members of the team, like a balance, metric weights, and some study guides, for the most part parents are left to themselves to figure out the rules and do what they do best--- teach their own kids and ferret out resources. Public libraries are a great help to these curious and determined families. Unlike many typical public or private school teams that have developed programs, accumulated supplies, and maintained relationships with professionals willing to help, for Tri-State, efforts are primarily of the grass roots sort.

There is one informational team meeting in the fall, another pre-competition meeting, and this year there will be another meeting before Nationals. Other than that, the homeschoolers are left on their own to set up meetings with partners and to study for or to build for their events. Additionally, students are encouraged to attend the help sessions that some teachers and event supervisors offer to all the teams close to competition day.

One obvious question was whether homeschoolers focused on Science Olympiad to the exclusion of all other subjects or if they tended to keep full loads. While neither source could speak definitively for all families, both sources averred that the latter was the case for them. One family said they continued their full physics science program along with all other subjects. Both families insisted that their children needed to have a well-rounded education and that a focus only on Science Olympiad for months on end would not have accomplished that goal. Standardized tests scores for these families would tend to bear witness to their well-roundedness. These kids work primarily in the evenings or on weekends with their partners, beginning in January or even in mid-December, if possible. It seems to be a way of life. In fact, this year's family has deferred their spring break until May because they will be missing instructional time when they drive to Indiana University Bloomington for the National Science Olympiad competition.

All funding for the TSHS team is donated by private sources, and parents bear the burden of financing their events themselves. Anyone wishing to contribute to the team can send a check to Delaware Home Educators Association at 11 Bristol Knoll Road, Newark, DE 19711-2122. All donations are tax deductible 501(c)3, and checks can be made out to DHEA. Please indicate that the donation is for the TSHS S.O. fund.

Good luck, Tri-State Home School.

Ever for all that's right and good in the world and always in the underdog's corner,

Anna Venger

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