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Kelly Mill Elementary first-graders win national contest, spur science event
Ryan Dooley and Jordin Findlay make slime as part of an experiment with DuPont representatives during Kelly Mill Elementary School’s first-ever science day. - photo by Kayla Robins

WEST FORSYTH — Students at a west Forsyth school laughed, danced and cheered in the gym Thursday. But not for a sport or for the weekend, rather it was for science.

Two first-grade classes at Kelly Mill Elementary won first place for their level in the DuPont Challenge Science Writing Competition. As a celebration of the accomplishment, DuPont visited the school to present a science experiment to students in kindergarten through third grade.

The classes, led by Laura Fedorchuk and Julie King, took the top spot over submissions from schools throughout the nation, Canada and U.S. territories. This was also the first year the competition was open to elementary schools. For the past 30 years, it had been targeted to middle and high school classes.

“It’s where the demand is, and we want to encourage them into science early to keep them on the path,” said Jeanette Simon, academic outreach manager for the DuPont Center of Philanthropy and Education.

The competition, which provides more than $50,000 in total prizes and awards to all winners, was created in 1986 as a science essay contest to honor those lost in the Challenger space shuttle crash. One of the crew members, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, was the first teacher in space.

A goal of the competition is not just to make science, technology, engineering and mathematics fun, said Julio Abreu, president and publisher of A+ Media, a program sponsor.

“It’s also to encourage teachers to motivate their students,” Abreu said.

Fedorchuk was awarded classroom supplies and an all-expense-paid trip to the National Science Teachers Association conference in Nashville, Tenn., in March.

She led her students in writing a life cycles story on earthworms.

Students were: Aanya Aligireddy, Jacob Boudreaux, Madelyn Clifford, Alex Desimone, Jordin Findlay, Noah Fondo, Skylar Goninan, Constantine Kaloudis, Connor Langford, Maiya Leonard, Kara Moffitt, Nishita Mukkara, Colt Muschara, Tanya Nallani, Aayush Patel, Garrett Pevey, Grayson Shoemaker, Katie Williamson and Matthew Williamson.

“They built a terrarium in the classroom and went through the whole life cycle,” Fedorchuk said. “And afterwards they wanted somewhere the worms could go, so we built a big compost outside. The worms are still there.”

The competition was designed around an essay contest so students could learn both how to apply knowledge and how to communicate what they learn.

A+ Media’s Abreu said the goal of the competition is to be a “catalyst” for science-based activities and thinking in schools.

Ron McAllister, Kelly Mill’s principal, took those notes and created a science day for the entire school.

After students attended the DuPont science experiment show, where kids got to participate in visually exciting, interactive experiments with household items, the student body visited different stations throughout the day.

Two star labs, where kids walked into a dome and looked at the solar system, were set up by Elachee Nature Science Center in Gainesville.

Kelly Price, director of academic standards for Forsyth County Schools, ran a STEM building and science Olympiad station, while Kevin Smith from Keep Forsyth County Beautiful showed science projects to students.

Another station was organized by a Kelly Mill teacher who performed scientific magic tricks with magnets.

Even the snacks were science-based, as students learned why the popcorn was a chemical charge.

“To do programs and to have competitions you have to have winners,” Abreu said, “but it’s best to engage more students.”