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Monmouth University Announces Winner of Stars Science Competition

Monmouth University today announced the winners of its fourth annual Stars Science Competition for middle school students. Solomon Schechter Day School of Marlboro won the first prize of $1,000, Howell Middle School South won second prize of $800, and Red Bank Charter School won third prize of $600.

The Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Monmouth County team, led by Mr. Bill McCurdy, was seeking the answer to why so many students were catching colds. They swabbed 82 locations in their school for germs and incubated the samples in agar for 48 hours at 37 degrees Celsius. They then used a microscope to examine the size of the colonies and concluded that the most germs were on the stair rail that is heavily used by the students when changing classes. The water fountain and the door to the multi-purpose room were also very “germy.” They plan to ensure that the “germy” spots are cleaned more frequently during the day to reduce the incidence of colds.

The Howell Middle School South team, led by Ms. Danielle Gianelos, called themselves the Hydroponies. They experimented with Hydroponics, Aquaponics, and traditional soil-based agriculture to see which method helped plants grow faster, healthier, and more efficiently. Ultimately, their goal was to increase the biodiversity in their school and community by transferring plants such as chives (which attract butterflies), catnip (which attracts other wildlife and repels mosquitoes), and basil (for healthy and organic snacks) into their school garden. Unfortunately, nothing grew as expected. But that’s the nature of science – not all experiments work the first time. Howell Middle School participates in the Eco-Schools USA program. Eco-Schools USA is part of an international recognition program sponsored by the UN internationally, directed by National Wildlife Federation in the United States, and coordinated by NJ Audubon statewide.

The team from the Red Bank Charter School, led by Ms. Nevin Salem, was also concerned about the germs and quality of air in their classrooms. After surveying the students, they decided to create an air filter made from a fan and a traditional furnace filter. The initial results showed lots of dust and allergens being collected in the filter. After the filters were installed, the students surveyed said they felt better and had fewer allergies.

Members of the High Technology High School Experimental Research Group assisted with the competition and presented their own award recognizing the team with the “Most Potential for Further Research.” The Township of Ocean Intermediate School won this award for their experiment using concord grape juice to repel Canadian Geese. The grape juice worked effectively to repel the geese but did attract bees in the summer. The High Tech High School students are wonderful role models for the middle school students.

Twenty-seven teams from eight local schools competed. The prize money will go to the teachers who led the winning teams and will be used to buy science equipment and supplies for the teachers’ classrooms.

Schools participating included the Solomon Schechter Day School (Marlboro), Howell Middle School South, Red Bank Charter School, Township of Ocean Intermediate School, Howell Memorial Middle School, Frank Antonides School (West Long Branch), Mother Teresa Regional School (Atlantic Highlands), and Knollwood School (Fair Haven).

Ms. Danielle Gianelos, science teacher at Howell Middle School South and leader of the second place team, said: “This is one of the most valuable learning experiences in these students’ middle school science course – from teamwork, to problem solving, to analyzing real data, combined with the virtual submission of work and my favorite part, the judges’ interviews. We were very lucky to participate, and I hope to be back for many years to come.”

Dr. Margaret Ann Chappell, co-founder of The Stars Challenge, said: “Students love competitions and the opportunity to compete intellectually – to come up with a creative solution to a problem that exists in their school or community. Students get to pick a problem and demonstrate their grasp of science and creativity as they develop a solution.”

The Stars Science Competition is sponsored by Commvault of Oceanport, NJ, which provided the prize fund; Monmouth University, which provided the venue and support; and The Stars Challenge, a science enrichment program for top middle school students.

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