There is a real buzz in the foyer at Mount Douglas secondary, and not just for the impending weekend.
The majority of those gathered on this day are students with a passion for science, technology, engineering and math – better known these days by the acronym STEM. Many have been a part of the competition achievements highlighted on the school’s newest wall of fame, which lists as many if not more first-place finishes than those marking athletic achievements in the nearby gymnasium.
As two of the school’s leading academic lights, Grade 12 student Emily Wang and Grade 9 student Nathan Hellner-Mestelman, cut the cords allowing the school-colour purple curtain to open, the crowd cheers with gusto, a clear sign of the pride they feel in having the accomplishments displayed like this.
“Our school has a super-strong STEM program, but we haven’t really seen too much recognition of that until recent years, and we have a fairly long history of performing well in these competitions,” Wang said later.
She began attending Mount Doug in 2018 and has been a key contributor to those events during her time at the school. She also is part of a group of high achievers from the school who are working with middle school students on math and science-related studies.
Hellner-Mestelman, a first-year Mount Doug student who was also celebrating his newly awarded silver medal in a national science fair competition – and his birthday – already has a good appreciation of how supportive the student body is of academic pursuits.
“We are a community at this school, and it’s really wonderful to present these accomplishments to everyone, and that we can all just enjoy it as a community,” he said.
Seemingly wise beyond his years, the teen put the competition recognition concept in perspective.
“On this board … it’s nice to see we’ve done well, but really, you know what? The important thing is the devotion to these mathematical and scientific events, the fact that students are interested enough in these subjects to want to participate in them. I think science is really the field of the future and having students engaged in these activities is really wonderful.”
Neal Johnson teaches physics, mathematics and sciences, and is among those working with students in the school’s gifted/challenge program. He led off the Friday afternoon ceremony May 27 noting this year more than 200 Mount Doug students participated in STEM competitions – nearly 25 per cent of the school population.
Among the 2022 results not yet on the wall are nine first-place rankings among Vancouver Island schools in national math competitions and a fourth-place overall ranking among all B.C. schools – including private schools – in University of Waterloo national math competitions for students in Grade 9 to 12.
Johnson, whose tenure at Mount Doug includes virtually all of the years listed on the STEM wall, reflected with pride at how the wall illustrates the commitment by students, teachers and the school to go the extra mile.
“I see a lot of culture developed by the students early on here that has kind of continued, where the (senior students) pass along a belief in working hard, and the rigor that mathematics and science requires at those levels,” he said. “They pass it on to the junior kids and it keeps perpetuating over and over.”
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