Swansfield team does a number on math foes


MAGGIE BUYS some Beanie Babies. Some sell for $12 each, others for $5.99. If she spent $41.97, how many of each did she buy?

You may be momentarily stumped by this puzzle, but the 13 students enrolled in Swansfield Elementary School's fifth-grade gifted and talented mathematics class can quickly tell you the answer.

The question is included in the "Solve It!" competition, a national problem-solving challenge run by the University of Delaware.

Last year, Swansfield placed second out of 96 teams of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade competitors from across the nation.

That was the first time Swansfield students had competed. Their entry fee was paid by the Johns Hopkins Professional Development School, which has placed student teachers at Swansfield.

When the money was unavailable for this school year's competition, Swansfield Principal Earl Slacum found another school source for the $100 fee.

This year's class is ranked No. 1 among the 66 teams in the math contest, based on the results of the four rounds of competition to date, with one round remaining.

Swansfield's score was perfect in the fourth round. It was two points ahead of the No. 2 team from New York City's Laboratory School, which was overall winner in last year's competition.

The students compete by taking tests in their classrooms. The tests are sent to the University of Delaware for grading.

Although the Swansfield team achieved high scores both years, the students did not spend extra class time drilling for the competition.

"The competition fits nicely with the curriculum the students are already studying, which emphasizes not only mastery of skills, but creative problem solving," said Noel Richman, a teacher of gifted and talented students at Swansfield. "It's a very positive and motivating experience for these young mathematicians."

Everyone contributes to the team's success, and students encourage each other to excel, Richman said.

Students competing this year are Nick Bulka, Gena DeLuca, Tahirah Foy, Christine Hill, Vick Krishnaswamy, Lidang Li, Jonathan Najmi, Sara Nash, Lindsey Oken, Alyssa Perrone, Taylor Reese, Gary Thompson and Austin Williams.

With one round of competition left, students aren't celebrating yet, Richman said. But she added, "They are so enthusiastic, I know they'll continue to apply a variety of skills they've learned. What more could a teacher ask for?"

The winners will be announced in April.

If you're still scratching your head over the puzzle, Maggie bought two Beanie Babies for $12 each and three at $5.99.

Scouting for food

Don Stout is chairman of Cub Scout Pack 618, which meets at Clemens Crossing Elementary School.

This weekend, the pack's 50 members will join Scouts across the country in an annual food drive, Scouting for Food.

Since 1988, the drive has collected more than 1.7 million pounds of food nationwide.

Beginning Saturday, Stout says, Howard County Scouts will deliver 62,000 plastic bags to area homes. On March 6, the boys will retrieve the bags, which they hope will be filled with nonperishable donations.

Among the items most needed by food banks are peanut butter, tuna, baby formula, soups, stews and canned fruit.

"Last year, 32,000 pounds of food were collected," Stout said of the local effort. "Our goal is to exceed 40,000 pounds this year."

If each Howard County household gave one can, the Scouts would easily exceed their goal, he said, adding, "Unfortunately, most families don't participate."

As more people become aware of the drive, the Scouts hope participation will increase.

Donations will go directly to food banks and pantries in Howard County, including FISH, Grassroots, the Elkridge Food Pantry, Elizabeth House and the Howard County Food Bank.

Pack 618's den leaders -- Amy Newcomer, Rob Kolodner, Steve Kempler, Dave Smith and Charlie Ryan -- will lead their Scouts through your neighborhood this weekend. Please support them and fill up those bags!

Reading night

Longfellow Elementary School's PTA will sponsor its annual Eagle Challenge Family Reading Night from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday.

The Eagle Challenge reading program was started four years ago by the PTA to promote reading among the students.

Longfellow Principal Alan Olchowski said that since the inception of the program, "there's been a tremendous increase in the amount of time students spend reading outside of school."

Parents Gena Stanek, Liz Barrett and Tracy Houchins are the reading program coordinators.

Stanek says children pledge to spend a certain number of minutes reading at least 20 times a month. Those who reach their goal are rewarded with small treats such as bookmarks or school pennants. Then they start over again the next month.

Classrooms with the highest participation celebrate with popcorn parties. At the end of the year, students are given T-shirts as rewards for honoring their pledges.

Friday night, Barry Polisar, a popular children's author and singer, will perform for the children and their families. The children are encouraged to bring a few books to swap with classmates, and the PTA will provide refreshments and door prizes.

Information: 410-992-4404.

A quiet miracle

"It was the best evening I ever had," said Rabbi Hillel Baron, 36, describing the festivities at the Lubavitch Center for Jewish Education Sunday evening.

More than 100 people gathered at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Gan Israel Jewish Day School, the first Jewish day school in Howard County. First grade began last month, when the building was completed.

It's nothing short of miraculous, the way that everything fell into place," Baron said. Ground was broken for the school 10 months ago.

To keep costs down, community members contributed labor, professional services and materials, saving approximately $100,000 in construction costs, Baron said. Hickory Ridge resident Jacob Hains, a member of the congregation who is in his mid-80s, created the stained-glass windows.

"This was sort of a quiet miracle," the rabbi said.

After the ribbon-cutting ceremony and a short program, participants were treated to a banquet, music by a band and dancing. The ecstatic Baron celebrated by dancing on the tables.

Gan Israel Jewish Day School offers classes for preschoolers, kindergarten and the first grade. Baron says the plan is to add one grade level per year.

Information: 410-740-2424..

Pub Date: 2/24/99

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