CARMEL VALLEY — Despite its short history as
a school, Canyon Crest Academy took home top honors Feb. 20 at the San Diego Regional Science Olympiad, dethroning district rival Torrey Pines High, which reigned as champion for the past 10 consecutive years.
But according to some team members, beating out the big kid down the street wasn’t necessarily the highlight of the competition.
“This was a very exciting win for us,” senior Rosie Jackson said. “But everyone in it is really fun. You get to go and hang out and learn, which sounds really nerdy, but that was the great.”
Jackson described the day of the event as “a giant hang out,” during which she took 450 pictures. “Everyone on the team was enthusiastic and supportive,” she said. “Whether someone on our team placed first or 20th, we all cheered like no other.”
Matthew Voss, also a senior and the team president, agreed. “It was fun because a bunch of smart kids who are interested in the same things get to hang out,” he said.
Canyon Crest has participated in the annual event every year since the school opened in August 2004. In those six years, students have taken home four trophies, but until now their highest finish was third place two years ago.
Science Olympiad is a nationally organized competition in biology, chemistry, physics and engineering. This year 65 teams from 23 high schools competed in a total of 23 events. Each school may send up to six teams with no more than 15 students per team. Canyon Crest, which sent five teams comprising 67 students from all grade levels, ended the day with the highest cumulative score.
Events included lab tests in areas such as forensics and chemistry, written exams and building and testing devices such as trajectories that must meet specific criteria and perform specific tasks.
The Canyon Crest team was coordinated by Matthew’s mother, Jennifer Voss, with physics teacher John Danssaert acting as faculty advisor. Also helping out were science teachers Kaveh Shakeri and Ariel Hass and several parent volunteers who spent the five or six months leading up to the competition working with students after school, on weekends and during holidays.
Sessions involved learning science facts, concepts, processes and applications as well as building devices such as mousetrap vehicles, bridges and catapults. Depending on the project, students spent between one and three hours per week preparing for the competition.
Jackson described the week or so before the event as “scary days.” She said she spent five hours one day after school perfecting her project, which eventually took fourth place.
As the faculty advisor, Danssaert said he mostly observed and provided the classroom in which to work. “These kids are amazing,” he said. “Their self-motivation is inspiring. They’re a special group.”
The 15 students with the highest scores in the regional event, including three freshmen, will compete in the state competition April 10 at Cabrillo High School in Long Beach. Canyon Crest finished third in that event last year.
Because Canyon Crest is a young school, the Science Olympiad team is still in development mode. It is a no-cut program and, unlike at some schools, students can pick the events they want to participate in rather than be assigned to them, Voss said.
Voss, who has been participating in Science Olympiad since middle school, said he spent a lot of time during his high school years recruiting members by networking with friends, talking to teachers and setting up an information table during other school events.
This was Jackson’s first year with the program, which she said she joined “because Matthew told me to.” Some members joined a week before the competition, Voss said, adding that one of the toughest aspects of the club is not having a tried-and-true program in place like some of their opponents.
“We don’t have a lot of background,” he said. “We’re starting from scratch.” Based on their performance at this year’s competition, that doesn’t appear to be holding these students back.