Tag Archives: Art Ellis

Science Olympians Confront Virus

The Staples High School girls and boys basketball teams — both enjoying their best seasons in decades — saw their state tournament hopes suddenly end. No one knows what will happen to spring sports, though that season seems increasingly unlikely.

But Westport athletes were not the only ones whose seasons came to a brutal end, thanks to the coronavirus.

At Bedford Middle School and Staples High, dozens of students were preparing for the state — and hopefully national — Science Olympiad competitions. They, their teachers and advisors had spent hundreds of hours since August researching, designing and studying.

Building on last year’s success — both teams represented Connecticut at the national tourney at Cornell University (for Bedford, the 3rd trip in 5 years) — the squads felt confident.

Last year’s Bedford Science Olympians …

Science Olympians don’t get the publicity or prestige — and certainly not the crowds — of basketball players. But in the highly competitive world of science contests, the Westporters are superstars.

The Bedford program began 9 years ago. Engineering and design teacher Art Ellis is the driving force — the Geno Auriemma of Science Olympiads. He’s assisted by Dr. Daniel Cortright, a BMS science teacher.

This year — with Coleytown students attending Bedford — the middle school teams merged. CMS engineering and design teacher Keenan Grace brought his students on board, with great success.

… and the Coleytown squad.

Science Olympiads consist of 23 events. Each team — usually 15 students — competes in all 23. (This year’s BMS squad included about 75 youngsters. Including various invitational meets, 50 or so got actual competitive experience.)

The events range from building a structure, vehicle or flying object, to tests in areas like geology, meteorology and anatomy, to hybrid, chemistry lab-style activities.

There are activities too like “Crime Busters,” for forensic analysis.

Then there is “Disease Detectives.”

Developed long before COVID-19 spread across the globe, this Science Olympiad event asks students to examine — and solve — disease outbreaks.

At the national high school tournament, the CDC gives an award to the winner of this event — plus an expense-paid trip to its headquarters in Washington, DC.

Many of the middle school Disease Detectives questions have revolved around food-borne illnesses. They’re fairly straightforward to analyze, Cortright says.

From left: Middle school teachers and Science Olympiad coaches Dan Cortright, Kat Nicholas and Art Ellis.

Not long ago, he and Ellis talked about possible tournament questions. They guessed there would be some about pathogens like COVID-19. They started preparing their team for them.

But before they could solve the problem — or at least, address it — the state and national tournaments were canceled.

The Westport Public Schools have moved to distance learning. Activities like Science Olympiad are on hold.

But if anyone can figure out how to adapt to our new reality — and (who knows?) come up with a way to solve or even prevent future disease outbreaks — it’s these young superstars.


In related Science Olympiad news, 4 members of Staples’ team were also involved in the M3Mathworks Math Modeling Challenge.

Formerly called Moody’s Math Challenge, it’s certainly challenging. Teams of 5 students represent their schools, using math to solve a real world problem.

They meet outside of school, download the problem, then work together continuously for 14 hours. The winning solution earns a large cash prize for the school.

Staples’ team — including those 4 Special Olympians — worked together on the problem before social distancing began.

This year’s involved electric trucks. Specifically, contestants had to make intelligent decisions about the necessary charging infrastructure is complex, and weigh economic and environmental implications for communities surrounding trucking corridors is essential. Over 750 teams competed.

The Staples Mathworks Challenge team, hard at work.

Click here to see the Staples team’s video — 14 hours compressed into 3 minutes — on Facebook. Click here for more information on the M3Mathworks Math Modeling Challenge.

BMS Science Olympians Strike Gold

When I hear “science competition,” I think of nerdy kids next to poster boards, explaining styrofoam experiments to nerdy judges.

When Bedford Middle School students hear it, they think of Science Olympiad. Which is pretty similar to the actual Olympic Games.

Instead of swimming, boxing, biathlon (and curling!) though, there are events like anatomy and physiology, hovercraft and towers.

Body tape and energy bars are replaced by duct tape and battery chargers.

But — just like the Summer and Winter Games — events are timed. Adrenaline runs high. There are big prizes for the winners.

Last month, BMS placed 1st and 3rd at the state competition in Farmington. The gold winners now represent Connecticut at the 34th annual Science Olympiad national tournament. It’s May 18-19, at Colorado State University.

Hail to the champions: Bedford Middle School’s Science Olympiad stars.

That’s no small achievement. 15,000 schools participate across the country. Teams of up to 15 students compete in 23 events, covering science, technology, engineering and math.

Some require constructing a project ahead of time. Others involve on-the-spot skill-solving. Like athletes, “SciOly” teams train for hours each week.

Fortunately, Bedford is led by a coach who is John Wooden, Geno Auriemma and Pep Guardiola rolled into one.

During the day, Art Ellis — the first student at Princeton University to seek a combination degree in engineering and public school education — teaches design and engineering.

Teacher/coach Art Ellis in action.

After school, his classroom transforms into the Science Olympiad workshop. Middle schoolers build, study, perform lab trials, make mistakes and hone their performances.

After a dinner break, he opens the room again. Students focus on different events.

On weekends he’s either at BMS, or in Glastonbury coaching his flyers for the SciOly “Wright Stuff” event.

Many of this year’s Olympians worked during school breaks — including last summer vacation. They’ve been inspired by Mr. Ellis, who teaches them exactly how competitions work.

Once the students understand how good their opponents are — and they’re very, very good — they’re hooked on beating them.

But there’s no trash talk or foul play. Bedford wins with grace. They congratulated the runners-up profusely. After all, Mr. Ellis reminded them, if the other team wasn’t their rivals, they’d likely be their good friends.

After winning a gold medal, two Bedford Middle School Science Olympians show their joy.

Mr. Ellis also coaches the Staples High School Science Olympiad team. Formed last year, they’ve already snagged a pair of 3rd-place finishes. Coleytown Middle School competed at the state meet this year too, and earned an individual medal.

There’s only one thing Mr. Ellis can’t do: create money out of thin air. The cost of sending 25 students and 5 advisers to Colorado is $35,000. Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to Bedford Middle School, 88 North Avenue, Westport, CT 06880 (put “Science Olympiad” in the memo line).

Congratulations to BMS Science Olympians Jackson Benner, Julia Berg, Tavan Bhatia, Aalok Bhattacharya, Kristina Chaney, Rhea Choudhury, Joshua Deitch, Tatiana Dragun, Hannah Even, Amy Ginzburg, Tanvi Gorre, Sharmila Green, Anja Gubitz, Finnbar Kiely, Lucy Livingstone, Emma Losonczy, Annabelle Luo, Colin Morgeson, Alexander Pirkl, Jeffrey Pogue, Ishan Prasad, Naomi Rosen, Zachary Rybchin, Samira Saad, Kaitlyn Seo, Tegh Singh, Clara Smith, Mallika Subramanian, Maxwell Tanksley, Whitman Teplica and Jy Xu, plus Mr. Elllis’ fellow coaches Kathryn Nicholas and Dr. Daniel Cortright.

Good luck going for another gold. And have fun along the way!

(Hat tip: Danielle Teplica)

Bedford Middle Schoolers Head To Olympics

In just their 2nd year of existence, Bedford Middle School’s Science Olympiad team won the state championship.

There’s no telling how far they’ll go now.

Well, actually there is. They’re headed to University of Nebraska, for the national tournament next month.

The 21 middle schoolers compete in a grueling “academic track meet.” They are judged in 23 events, covering topics like earth science, epidemiology, ecology, topography, chemistry, anatomy, entomology, forensics, physics, geology, environmental science, robotics, and mechanical/engineering construction.

The youngsters designed a wooden glider launched by rubber bands, as well as a robot that can pick up small objects and move them around. They’ve also studied a crime scene (including chromatography, fingerprints and soil patterns), then written an essay about who did what (and how).

The Bedford Middle School Science Olympiad team. (Photo/Casey Donahue)

The Bedford Middle School Science Olympiad team. (Photo/Casey Donahue)

The Science Olympiad program was introduced at Bedford by principal Adam Rosen — a former participant himself.

Teachers Art Ellis and Rebecca Kaplan run it as a club. Students put hundreds of hours into preparation — after school nearly every day, and some Saturdays too.

They’ve accomplished a lot. But they can’t do everything alone.

Now — as they prepare for their trip to the nationals — they’re trying to raise $30,000, to cover airfare, buses, accommodations, meals and supplies for the Olympians and chaperones. A GoFundMe webpage has started them on their way.

Team members include Mark Ballesteros, Ethan Chin, Genevieve Domenico, Tyler Edwards, Chet Ellis, Tommy Fabian, Anna Hill, Angela Ji, Vignesh Kareddy, Zach Katz, Charlie Kleeger, Augustin Liu, Maria Maisonet, Aniruddha Murali, Nishika Navrange, Swami Parimal, Sirnia Prasad, Jory Teltser, Alex Tsang and Derek Ye.