Students dazzle at Science Olympiad

Thurgood Marshall Middle School’s Science Olympiad team placed fifth in the regional competition. Pictured here are the members competing in the event Crime Busters. (courtesy of Karla McCalmont)

Students dazzle at Science Olympiad

Imagine solving a who-done-it, building a battery-operated robot or proving your knowledge in a specialized area of science. Now imagine being able to do that in middle school. Ninety students of Thurgood Marshall Middle School do just that when they compete annually in the Science Olympiad.

Karla McCalmont, one of Thurgood Marshall Middle School’s 46 Science Olympiad assistant coaches, is a chemist by trade. She serves as the coach for the Crime Busters event in the competition. Science Olympiad, McCalmont explained, is comprised of 23 events that fall into three distinct categories: study events, lab events and build events. Crime Busters falls into the lab events category with much to accomplish in a short amount of time.

“In the case of Crime Busters, you have a mock crime scene scenario: students are given evidence and they have 50 minutes to discover metals and liquids, figure out which evidence points to what suspects and write an analysis showing their conclusion,” McCalmont said.

The topics range from life science, earth science and physical science to technology and experimental design. Marshall Middle School students participating each compete in three or four separate events. For the majority of the events, the participants are placed into teams based on their application which denotes their preference for particular events.

According to McCalmont, the participants meet weekly with their coaches for each of their assigned events from October through February. While there were some smaller invitational events that helped the participants gain their competition sea legs, the main event of the year is the annual San Diego Regional Tournament. Thurgood Marshall Middle School has placed in the top 10 schools for the past 12 years, and this year was no different. Competing on Feb. 9, Thurgood Marshall Middle School placed fifth out of 32 schools and 112 teams. This remarkable finish solidifies their spot at the California State Science Olympiad competition to be held on April 6.

McCalmont said participating in Science Olympiad gives participants the opportunity to take a deep dive on a topic they really enjoy.

“Science Olympiad provides a chance for students to try out an area mentioned maybe once or twice in class work with much more detail. It also provides a venue for better communication skills and working with a partner. The kids learn how to delegate each task to their strong suits,” she said.

Only 15 students from the 90 Marshall Middle School participants will be selected for state competition and, according to McCalmont, they may face events for which they have never prepared. This year, however, their self-selected team names should at least make them feel battle ready: Hela, Killmonger, Loki, Thanos, Ultron and Venom are all monikers shared with powerful villains from the Marvel universe. For more information, visit

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