Quaker Valley Middle School Shines at PJAS State-Level Competition

Quaker Valley Middle School (QVMS) made an impressive showing at the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science (PJAS) state-level competition held at Penn State University on May 20. Under the guidance of their teacher, Margot Bruno, 17 eighth-grade students from QVMS’s 4000-level Physical Science classes showcased their long-term experimental design projects, earning remarkable accolades.

In February, these students presented their projects at the regional PJAS competition, where all first-place winners were invited to the state competition. The students meticulously prepared their experiments for several months, culminating in formal presentations at Penn State.

This year’s PJAS competition was a historic moment for QVMS, marking the first time the school had students achieve perfect scores at the state level. Ms. Bruno, who has been guiding her students through PJAS for the past 20 years, noted the exceptional effort shown by her students: “QVMS had our best showing of scientific experimental design at the PJAS state competition at Penn State main campus this past week. Our students’ dedication and hard work have truly paid off.”

Quaker Valley Middle School Participants:

  • Elena Cindrich (Botany) “The Effect of the Speed of Classical Music on Plant Growth” 1st place
  • Carter Hawes (Physics) “Analyzing How Far Different Tennis Ball Brands Can Travel” 1st place
  • Zoe Hermenau (Zoology) “Effect of Bird Food Type on Diversity of Winter Birds” 1st place
  • Cameron Neal (Physics) “Analyzing the Velocity of Different Brands of Baseballs” 1st place
  • Lena Rothbauer (Behavioral Psychology) “Effect of Exposure to Vocabulary on Spelling Level” 1st place
  • Katie Schillo (Zoology) “Disco Party in the Coop: What Light Do Chickens Like Best?” 1st place
  • David Watts, Jr. (Botany) “Analyzing the Effect of Water Pollutants on Plant Weight” 2nd place

Among these outstanding projects, two students achieved the highest honor, which requires all judges to agree on perfect scores in each of the five criteria categories of scientific thought, experimental methods, analytical approach, presentation, and judge’s opinion. Both students expressed surprise and pride at their perfect scores, emphasizing the hard work and resilience that led to their success:

  • Leasia Karto (Microbiology) “Bacteria Growth in Viral Brands of Liquid Blush” 1st place
  • Hannah Olawaiye (Botany) “Analyzing the Effect of NPK Levels on the Height of Parsley” 1st place

Leasia Karto shared that her project had a personal connection to her interests: “I wanted to show the importance of shelf life and the risks of leaving products exposed. My experiment combined my passion for cosmetics with science, and I hope to pursue cosmetic dermatology in the future.” She carefully selected the most viral and popular liquid blushes from Tik Tok and Instagram when starting her experiment. She offered special thanks to her parents for purchasing her very expensive Sephora cart. 

Hannah Olawaiye explained that NPK stands for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium and are the most common ingredients of fertilizers. “I analyzed the effect of NPK levels on parsley height using different fertilizers,” she explained. “Although my hypothesis wasn't correct, the experiment demonstrated the significance of NPK levels.” Olawaiye shared that she tested many different fertilizers on her plants, sometimes relying on family and friends to help her care for the.

The PJAS state competition is known for its rigorous standards. Students present their experiments in small groups, judged based on the criteria of scientific thought, experimental methods, analytical approach, presentation quality, and judges' opinion. Earning a perfect score requires unanimous agreement from all judges across these criteria, making Karto and Olawaiye’s achievements particularly noteworthy.

“I think this year I've learned overall that hard work really will get you farther than just maybe being the smartest or having it figured out. And I think that that really shows for us,” said Karto. “Especially because we have worked so hard and it's not just about the classes we've taken, but again, it's about the work we've put in. We've been doing this for 6 months at this point. It felt good to be rewarded for something that we put so much time into.”

The students’ success was supported by extensive research with Library Media Specialist Tom Forrest, and the involvement of parents who helped set up experiments. These young scientists have set a high bar for future participants, showcasing the remarkable talent and dedication present at Quaker Valley Middle School.