Immaculate Conception School's "Science Olympiad" ornithology team members: Jacob Stinnett, Ada Cleary, Lucy Comello, Maddi Parker

“Science Olympiads” is a nationwide science competition that tests kids’ knowledge in many areas of science — chemistry, earth science, anatomy, astronomy, physics, biology, and – this year — ORNITHOLOGY! In Ohio, a series of tournaments is held over the course of several months, resulting in the top eight teams moving on from the big Regional Tournament to the intense State Tournament in April.

Immaculate Conception School's "Science Olympiad" ornithology team members:  Jacob Stinnett, Ada Cleary, Lucy Comello, Maddi ParkerCA’s four guests of honor on this night, from Immaculate Conception School in Clintonville, were coached by CA Board member Gerry Brevoort and parent volunteer Jane O’Shaughnessy. When the season started, the coaches were informed that their ornithology team consisted of four brilliant kids….who knew absolutely nothing about birds. The challenge was set and they were off and running.

The team first met in November and received their assignment: the kids would need to be able to identify by sight, and learn everything there was to know about, 187 specific bird species — including being able to recognize 50 of their vocalizations. This was going to be a massive undertaking and they had just two months before their first tournament. That’s when they recruited the assistance of Nadya Bennett, another CA Board member and coordinator of CA Kids.

The coaches met with the students once a week for an hour at a time. Along the way, these fantastic students learned about taxonomy, bird anatomy, environmental issues, and the state of birds. Their vocabulary increased as the coaches introduced them to terms like crepuscular, sexual dichromatism, zygodactyl, dihedryl, and altricial.

The students drilled and drilled on birdcalls, visited the OSU Museum of Biological Diversity, and took a field trip to Blendon Woods where they learned to use binoculars for the first time. Their enthusiasm was evident as they literally jumped up and down, squealing at their first glimpse of baby owls at Greenlawn and an eagle’s nest at Highbanks. For the kids, it was one discovery after another; for the coaches, it was a joy to behold how thrilled and energized the students were.

Lucy, Ada & Jacob, bonding while birdingThat passion produced some impressive results: at their very first tournament, the team went up against 36 other teams and took 4th place. Four weeks later, it was 3rd place against 29 other teams, followed by a 4th place finish a few weeks after that. At the big Regional Tournament, competing against teams from all over Ohio, the team proudly took 1st place and qualified for the prestigious State competition. And at that event in April, these novice birders, their brains stuffed with incredible amounts of bird-related information, walked away with 10th place out of the top 40 teams in Ohio — including two National Championship teams. Very, very impressive!

Perhaps more impressive than all the medals these students earned was the dedication they exhibited. When other middle schoolers were sleeping-in on Saturday mornings or watching Cartoon Network in their jammies, these four were getting up at 6 a.m. to travel to out-of-town science tournaments. They did not receive any extra credit in school for their efforts, and they weren’t given any class time to work on their Ornithology studies (even though Jane, Nadya & Gerry relentlessly gave them homework every week).

Their focus and their drive to learn about birds came from within, and their enthusiasm was infectious. They did it because they love science. They love to compete. And now, it’s safe to say, they love birds! This is the future of Columbus Audubon!

The team celebrates success!  From left to right: Team adviser Gerry Brevoort, Lucy Comello, Maddie Parker, adviser Jane O'Shaughnessy, Ada Cleary, Jacob Stinnett, IC 2009 team member Julie Anderson, and Columbus Audubon adviser Nadya Bennett