Six Mount View Middle School students represented Howard County Public Schools for the first time in the Maryland Regional Middle School Science Bowl over the weekend. Although the team will not advance to the Department of Energy's 27th National Science Bowl next month, parent and head coach Rajeshwari Kachiraju says they're already preparing for next year's regionals.
The Marriottsville middle school was among 20 teams participating in the state regionals on Saturday at Prince George's Community College in Largo. Kachiraju said the team won three out of five rounds, but fell short of advancing to the semi-finals.
"For their first time, they did well," Kachiraju said. "They saw how to compete and learned a lot."
The team was led by Kachiraju's daughter, eighth grader Prerna Polepally, who helped assemble a team last fall. The Mount View Middle School team also includes seventh-grader Rishi Makkam, 12; sixth-grader Akshay Kannan, 11; seventh-grader Ayush Jain, 12; eight-grader Srihan Pamujula, 13; and sixth-grader Abhinav Reddicherla, 11.
Regional coordinator Gloria Shivers said all middle school regional competitions began in January across 48 states and will end March 18. One team from each state will advance to the National Science Bowl, held from April 27 to May 1 at the National 4-H Conference Center in Chevy Chase, with an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C.
Similar to Jeopardy, the Science Bowl follows a question-and-answer format, Shivers said, with a round-robin tournament in the morning and then an elimination round in the afternoon. Questions tested students' knowledge in life sciences, physical science and earth and space science as well as energy and mathematics.
The Science Bowl also features competitions at the high school level.
"Science and math are two subjects that students tend to shy away from," Shivers said. "You have to be someone who is very strong in mathematics because math is an integral part of the Science Bowl. There are a lot of equations and mathematical problems. I listen to [questions] and 90 percent of them I have no idea what the answer is."
Kachiraju said she was interested in the academic challenge for students and selected two students from each grade level based on their willingness to dive deeper into the subject material.
"We looked at their curiosity and enthusiasm to learn," said Kachiraju, a computer analyst and Ellicott City resident. "Once the team formed, we divided the topics and assigned each kid their own topic to prepare."
The team has met at least once or twice a week since October to review questions and discuss their topics with Kachiraju and assistant coach Jaya Kannan. Last week, the middle schoolers added one- to two-hour review sessions to their schedules to prepare for the regionals.
Prerna said she was eager to test her knowledge in the math and sciences.
"I ... feel proud that we were the first to take up this initiative for this competition [and] I hope to inspire more students, so more people can compete from Howard County," Prerna said.
The 12-year-old said she was well-versed in almost all of the competition's topics, including her favorite subject, environmental sciences.
"It has so many interesting real life facts and tricks," she said.
Sixth-grader Abhinav Reddicherla, 11, said he loves studying science, especially the current earth and space curriculum in his class.
"Some day, I want to be an environmentalist," Abhinav said.
Principal Allen Cosentino said he was delighted to see the students represent Mount View Middle School as well as the rest of the school system.
"This is something in addition to their normal studies," Cosentino said. "This is something of their own interest and they decided to form a team and pursue this. It's extra effort that they put in."
Kachiraju said she believes the team's brainpower showed at Saturday's regional competition and will shine again next year
"They want to go back next year and have started preparing," Kachiraju said. "They need more practice and more experience, which will help them a lot."