LEBANON – The past few years have been tough for the Lebanon High School Science Olympiad team.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shortened their 2020 season. In 2021 the team was smaller and had no new members.
But this year is different: For the first time in its eight years, the Lebanese Science Olympiad team won the New Hampshire state championship and will represent the state at the national championships next month.
Two teams — each consisting of 15 students — competed in the state championship at Saint Anselm College last month, the first in-person competition of the year. On the return bus, they received word that they had won, beating eight other schools to advance to the May 9-14 virtual national competition.
“Our goal in the past has been to lead individual students to medals at all events,” said John Tietjen, the group’s advisor and science teacher at LHS, during a meeting with team members Thursday. He described the year-round competitions as an “academic athletics meet.”
“We’re going up to the national team as a team,” he said.
The Science Olympiad has 23 STEM-related categories, and students usually compete in pairs. There are traditional timed exams, experiments and assignments. In the Lebanon team, the students have a say in where they want to compete.
“Each event has a different policy on what you can bring,” said Junior Miles Sturges. In the Codebusters category he competes in, where he uses ciphers to decrypt messages, “a few keys are provided, but you have to know how to use them.”
The seniors Alyssa Graber and Clara Smyrski have been in the team since their initial training.
“I wouldn’t say that we were a great addition to the team in the first year,” said Graber.
Over the years her confidence and skills have grown.
“I think it’s just a really cool way to learn things that you wouldn’t learn in science class,” Smyrski said.
The students prepare as a group and learn independently. Sometimes they come to high school on weekends to practice lab experiments.
Before the pandemic, students competed in in-person competitions at universities like Harvard, Brown, and MIT. This year, although hosted by these universities, students competed virtually; The California Institute of Technology will host the virtual national championship next month.
The national team is only allowed to have 15 students, which Tietjen described as difficult.
“Ultimately, decisions were based on a variety of factors, including the timing conflicts of events in the national tournament schedule, student prior experience and performance, and the need to cover all 23 events as competitively as possible,” he said.
Before the pandemic, students competed in personal competitions at Harvard, Brown, and MIT, among others.
This year’s team has 20 new members from all grade levels.
“This year I said, ‘Let’s start the program,'” Tietjen said.
Sophomore Zachary Thornton, who moved to the Upper Valley from Georgia last year, was one of those students.
“It looked fun,” Thornton said of the Science Olympiad. “I wanted to try it.”
It also gives students the opportunity to learn for the sake of learning and “explore something academically without the pressure of grades,” said junior Mary Rainey, new to the team this year. At the Science Olympiad, there is no penalty if you get it wrong.
Any student who wants to be on the LHS team can do so; There are no auditions and no out-of-competition cuts.
“Schools that are much bigger … have very selective teams,” Smyrski said, describing Lebanon as more of an outsider.
Junior Finn Ericson is part of the team for the first year. There was a small learning curve.
“It took me a while to understand how to prepare for an event,” he said. Once he started competing, “it was very rewarding.”
The team is now preparing for the national team. Your students recognize that they represent not just LHS, but all of New Hampshire.
“The pressure is on,” said Sturges, the junior “Codebuster.”
They also have the support of the LHS student council, the larger school community, and local businesses.
“The competition at the Nationals will be intense. Our goals are the same as all year round; being competitive, having fun and doing science well,” said Tietjen. “Seeing the students get this far is very meaningful and unforgettable. This group took our program to a whole new level. They have set a new standard for years to come.”
Liz Sauchelli can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3221.