A North Hollywood team of seniors is practicing how to solve problems and work out puzzles as they prepare to head for Washington, D.C., at the end of April to compete against braniacs from across the country in the National Science Bowl.
North Hollywood High always seems to find a crop of Whiz Kids for the regional Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's annual Science Bowl competition because they’ve won all except one since 1998. When they went on to U.S. Department of Energy National Science Bowl last year, the team place third (see the video of Councilman Paul Krekorian introducing the team to the Los Angeles City Council under the photo at the right.)
This year, Team A’s Whiz Kids are the team captain Harry Levine, Jennie Zheng, Rain Tsong, Daniel Bork and Khatcher Margossian.
They beat out 69 other schools this year in the regional competition in February, and are on their way on an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., from April 28 to May 2. They each also won the Hitachi Scholarship which grants $1,000 to each student.
Say what you will about the school system, at least in this competition, Los Angeles teams have placed best in the nation in the science bowl. North Hollywood won the national title in 2001, and other schools took four national titles and placed in the top five spots for 10 times in the past two decades. (The other champions from LAUSD were Van Nuys High School in 1995 and Venice High School in 1996 and 1997.)
The National Science Bowl is an academic science competition for high school and middle school students who show their knowledge in a question-and-answer format just like the television game show Jeopardy. The competing teams are made up of four students and one alternate with a teacher who serves as a coach.
This year’s coach, Altair Maine, the science and math teacher at North Hollywood High said, "The try-outs had 40 to 50 students for the four spots in A team. They have to answer a series of very sophisticated questions equivalent to advanced college level courses."
In Washington, they will also face scavenger hunts and other problem-solving puzzles that will take them on tours through the Smithsonian museums.
"The teams will compete each day until the last team is standing," said Walter S. Zeisl, manager of Education Outreach and Administrative Services of the Public Affairs Division of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
"The LADWP regional championship teams have been, Van Nuys High School in 1995, Venice High School in 1996 and 1997 and North Hollywood in 2001 who has won four national titles. North Hollywood, last year placed third at the national event. In previous years, North Hollywood has also captured three second place finishes, as well as one fourth and one fifth. So our regional champions have won 10 national trophies and North Hollywood team has won seven of them. North Hollywood has won 13 regional titles – every year beginning in 1998 except one.” Zeisl said.
Los Angeles DWP General Manager Ronald Nichols said, “Los Angeles will be well represented at this year’s national competition. We are very proud of their accomplishment and of all the teams and competitors at this year’s event.”
This year, Harvard-Westlake School Team B placed second and North Hollywood High School Team B placed fourth.
Named after the late LADWP electrical engineer and Science Bowl volunteer, Franklin Lu, students showed their scientific skills. The competition involved tasks like assembling and flying paper airplanes within a limited amount of time. Then students solved a series of puzzles, complex chemical formulas and designing.
Maine said he prepares the students by having them write 10 questions a week for each other.
“The students are the stars here, not me,” Maine said.