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Pagosa students compete at Regional Science Fair

The 52nd annual San Juan Basin Regional Science Fair was held March 2, with 21 students from Pagosa Springs participating in the competition and 14 students receiving awards.

Regional competitors were from 13 schools in the five-county region, with over 248 participants in the competitive classes: sixth grade, seventh and eighth grades, and high school. Held at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, 15 judges and 75 adult volunteers made the day happen. Winners received U.S. Savings Bonds: First place is awarded $100, second place $75 and third place $50.

The Science Fair is an annual event which sets out to encourage student learning and exploration and to promote interest in math, science, engineering and technology. Participation in the project recognizes research knowledge, ability, effort and achievement. It also encourages strong mentoring relationships, emphasizes safety for all project designs, supports student growth through an open evaluation process and provides an opportunity to advance in competition. The fair is sponsored by the San Juan Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES).

“I admire these kids because they signed up for one of the most time intensive electives that we offer. All of these kids spent considerable time outside of class working on their projects. They came up with some creative ideas and answered some relevant questions,” said J.D. Kurz, eighth-grade science teacher at Pagosa Springs Junior High School.

Ten Pagosa students from the eighth grade were present with their projects and seven placed in their respective categories.

Devyn Doctor placed first with her project, “Can Air Pollution Affect Stream Flow?” in the Earth and Space Sciences category, and the “Peers and Aspeis=??” project by Brayden Mitchell placed second in the Behavioral and Social Sciences category.

Two students received third-place awards: Dean Scott in Microbiology for his project, “Is a Toilet Seat Cleaner than a Keyboard?” and Mikaela Marchand with “Hot Springs+River+Convergence=Bugs!”

In the team project division, Devin Mulberry and Joshua Harwood placed second with “Hydroelectric Generator.” Zach Brown was awarded Honorable Mention in the Physics category for the project, “Does the Length of a Barrel Effect a Potato’s Velocity?”

Seventh graders and the team of Coleman Smith and Ben Bard placed third in the team project category with “Shockin’ Algae.”

While students agreed that participation in the fair is a lot of work, most everyone agreed with Bard who stated, “It was fun doing the experiment.”

There were seven young ladies from the sixth grade who entered the competition, with five placing.

Miah Pitcher won second place in Earth and Space Sciences Category with her “Pure Pressure” project; the team of Hannah Hemenger and Ayana Schaffer placed second with the project “Pitch,” and the team of Elena Donharl and Jessicah Wellman placed third with “The Mentos and Soda Eruption” project.

“I had the most fun doing the experiment and watching our geyser go up,” stated Wellman.

Special awards were announced with Devyn Doctor receiving the United States Geological Survey award for her Earth Sciences project and Devin Mulberry receiving an Honorable Mention ribbon for his entry in the math contest.

The day was long, especially waiting for personal interviews, but Jacob Manzanares commented, “It was cool seeing other people’s exhibits.”

Eighth-graders competing in the category Energy and Transportation with eight other competitors were Jacob Manzanares with “Solar Water Wheel,” Omar Ruiz with “Wind Speed Measurements,” and Creede Wylie with “Vaulted or Non-Vaulted?”

The seventh-grade team project, “Which Diaper Absorbs the Most Moisture?” was presented by Hannah Glaim and Hayleigh Brown. Other sixth-grade students participating in the Science Fair included Regan Richardson with “Biodegrading Bags” and Molly Burkesmith with “Pyramid Placement.”

“Science Fair is a great way for students to use the scientific method to complete an experiment, as well as go through the process of taking a large project and breaking it down into doable parts,” science teacher Tracy Schenk exclaimed. “These students do a ton of work!”

Students are required to find a topic of interest to develop into a full project. Initially, the student creates a purpose and hypothesis for the project. Then they set out to gather the materials needed to conduct the appropriate experiment, establish the procedure for the experiment, run the experiment and gather the results. With the experiment completed and results in hand, students compile data and reach a conclusion. Each competitor is required to create a show board to display all the parts of the project, the steps taken and the conclusion reached. At the competition, the show board is displayed and individual interviews are conducted by qualified judges.

Junior high school students can create a science fair project by choosing the science fair elective in the second quarter. Students work within the classroom framework to develop their project. J.D. Kurz and Tiffany Candelaria are the 8th and 7th grade science teachers, respectively. Sixth graders began working with science teacher Tracy Schenk during intervention time the beginning of January.

There is a great need for community volunteers to serve as science fair mentors. A mentor is assigned based on area of expertise and does weekly checkups with their student and helps guide the student’s research. This opportunity to work with students would be from mid-October to mid-January. If you are interested in volunteering next year, contact J.D. Kurz at