Middle school Mathletes work their way to record books

-A A +A
By Bernadette Lauritzen

 MathCounts coaches, Phuong Nguyen, Jane Lataille and the students swept the regional on competition as sixth, seventh and eighth grade students worked their way into the record books.
Participants go through a series of tests starting at the school level in January, the chapter level in February, the state level in March and for one lucky student, the national level in April.
On Feb. 8, the Hawks ran away with the Chapter Competition, at Pojoaque High School.
“This year we had one eighth grader and three seventh graders,” said Nguyen. “Unfortunately, this year the Chapter Competition was on the same day as the Science Bowl Competition, so a few students couldn’t attend both, we lost some good ones.”
The coaches agree that the students are much faster at the computations, their solutions were even better than the adults could produce and that the students have excellent visualization skills.
The teams have practiced on Tuesdays after school, since September, working through booklets of 300 problems to hone their skills, with additional practices added prior to the competition.
The competition consisted of four rounds, much like a game show, with the top 50 percent of the total teams and 25 percent of individuals advancing to the state finals.
“The Los Alamos Middle School students swept all four trophies this year on the Chapter Competition for individuals,” Nguyen said, which made her both happy and sad. “I am happy that they did well, but also sad because we didn’t have challengers.”
Nguyen encourages interested staff and more parents to get involved at the elementary level, even though it can be a challenge of both time and patience.
“The sooner they learn the better they will be at math, which will help them for their technical career later in life,” Nguyen said. “I hope that more parents and/or teachers will step up and help the youngsters in our community.”
The Hawk team then headed to state with a March 8 performance at state competition in Albuquerque, placing second as a team.
“It is very good news. Even getting second is not easy, since there are many good schools in Albuquerque,” Nguyen said. “The two top ones are Desert Ridge and Albuquerque Academy.”
Eighth grade student Do Vo took second place on the test and will advance with the New Mexico team to compete at the national competition, in Orlando, Fla., in May.
“Do is very excited to be one of the New Mexico MathCounts team members to compete in the national level,” Nguyen said. “It is an honor to be there.”
The New Mexico team will work as individuals, but also as a team. One perk to the competition is a two-day pass to Walt Disney World in between and after competition rounds.
Eighth grader Donald Poston had a fifth-place finish, making him eligible as an alternate for the team.
“Donald is a very bright kid,” Nguyen said. “However, fifth place out of more than 100 students who are good at math from all over New Mexico should also mean a great deal.”