Grant Spotlight – Volta Science Olympiad

New Trier Students Help Volta Science Olympiad Teams
Prepare for Regional and State Tournaments

“Our main objective is to engage New Trier students in meaningful interactions with the Volta students while helping them develop valuable skills in engineering, science and lab. This is a great embodiment of all three facets of our school motto––to commit minds to inquiry, hearts to compassion, and lives to the service of humanity.”
– Don Wurth, Science Faculty

Seven New Trier High School volunteers––comprising seniors and faculty––traveled with the Volta Elementary School Science Olympiad varsity team to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for this year’s state tournament on April 21. After several weeks helping the Volta students prepare for the competition’s 23 science and engineering events, the New Trier students celebrated the Volta team taking home three medals in Thermodynamics, Rotor Egg Drop and Hovercraft. The varsity team also finished in the top 10 in other events. This was their fourth straight year competing at the state level.

On March 10, the regional tournament took place at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Volta’s varsity team brought home 12 medals and finished third in the city. The junior varsity team took home 16 medals and finished in a tie for first place. The entire team also won the 2018 Spirit Award.

Funding from the Foundation in the amount of $2,000 helped to cover some of the costs for science equipment, building materials, supplies and bus transportation for Volta students to visit New Trier. “Thanks to Marianne Breen and the New Trier Educational Foundation for the generous grant that allowed us to provide the kids with the equipment and materials they needed for their events,” acknowledges Don Wurth, Science Olympiad Sponsor. “Be assured that your support translated into many smiles, hugs, fist pumps, and parent tears at the awards ceremony.”

Volta Science Olympiad varsity team on one of their full-day visits to New Trier for studying and practice labs with our student volunteers and faculty.

New Trier is now in its seventh year of sponsoring a Science Olympiad team within the Chicago Public School system. This is the fifth year working with Volta in the city’s Albany Park neighborhood. In total, over 125 CPS students have benefitted from this social service partnership, and over 150 New Trier volunteers have assisted in the effort. After receiving more than 50 applications, Volta selected 30 of their students (grades 6-8) for this year’s varsity and junior varsity teams.

Throughout the fall, winter and spring, twenty New Trier volunteers––comprising juniors, seniors and faculty––spent their Saturday mornings assisting the Volta teams with studying, practicing labs, and building their engineering products. At the regional and state competitions, New Trier students assisted the younger students by carrying equipment to the events and (mostly) calming nerves.

Engineering events included building a lightweight balsa tower to hold as heavy a load as possible; an airplane powered by a rubber band to keep it in the air for as long as possible; a hovercraft to be directed down a track; an electric vehicle with a braking system that must be able to make designated stops; and a marble roller coaster that must keep a marble going for different target times. Mystery Architecture challenged the students’ ability to build on the spot using unconventional building materials such as paper cups, paper plates and plastic straws––even a bridge made with spaghetti!

The academic portion of Science Olympiad included events that challenged the students in chemistry, biology, astronomy and earth science. Optics tested their abilities to work with lasers and mirrors. Crime Busters challenged their skills in forensic science by identifying chemicals and understanding finger prints.

Science Faculty Don Wurth displaying some of the winning entries at regionals.

The Volta team faces major hurdles each new season. According to statistics provided by CPS, approximately 94% of Volta students come from low income households, and 63% of the students have limited English skills. Most of the other 14 CPS schools that participate in Science Olympiad are magnet or gifted schools that have selective enrollment.

The hard work of the Volta students and New Trier volunteers have resulted in Volta teams finishing in the top three in the city for the last three years and advancing to the state tournament. “For some Volta kids this might be their third year as a team member,” Wurth points out. “It’s great to see their progress from 6th to 8th grade, how much they’ve learned and needing less input from the volunteers.”

“Since this program began, many New Trier alumni who volunteered as students come back and say how helping the kids prepare for their tournaments was one of the highlights of their senior year or their high school experience,” Wurth adds.

“At this year’s regionals, seven former Volta students––currently at Von Steuben and Lane Tech––reconnected with us at the tournament and said they’re still doing Science Olympiad in high school. Some are taking AP Science classes,” Wurth recalls. “Faculty volunteers––Mary Beth Barrett, Tracy Smith, Phil Steptoe––and I like to think that we had a little part in encouraging them to stay involved in science and technology.”



Read more impact stories:

Grants Spotlight 2018-2019

Grants Spotlight 2017-2018

Grants Spotlight 2016-2017

Grants Spotlight 2015-2016