Middle schoolers compete in 'Olympics of the Mind' at CMU
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The team placed third -- not a bad showing -- but it was the final contest and the team members wanted a win.
"It's all right, we tried," 11-year-old Keimon Dupree said when his team faltered.
This was not a test of the body, but of the mind for the middle schoolers who participated in the "Olympics of the Mind," an academic competition held at Carnegie Mellon University Friday morning.
The event was organized by Higher Achievement, a Washington, D.C., education nonprofit that launched in Pittsburgh this summer to provide after-school and summer classes to 65 fifth- and sixth-graders in the Hill District and Homewood communities. UPMC Center for Inclusion and Pittsburgh Public Schools sponsored the event.
Keimon's Pitt Team Respect was named for the University of Pittsburgh and one of the nonprofit's four tenets, which also include collaboration, spirit and excellence.
The lime green tablecloth slowly inched off one side of the table as Pitt Team Respect scrambled to write answers to science questions on a dry-erase board before time ran out.
Team members named the three stages of the water cycle, the cardinal points, the definition of compost.
The tough one that almost put their victory in peril?
"What is the name of a person who makes maps?"
"Mapmaker," 10-year-old Jevon Broughton declared.
No, that's not right, the others said, but they were stumped, too. Then, cautiously, 11-year-old Aneia Dotson said "cart," and the synapses fired in Jevon's brain. He came through for the win, sputtering "cartography."
Ah'Layzia Johnson, 10, scrawled down "cartographer" just in time and cheers erupted.
It was a lesson in teamwork. They took first place that round.
During the break, the students signed the backs of friends' T-shirts, like a summer camp farewell.
These past six weeks were not all fun and games, though.
"It's like school," Ah'Layzia said.
Indeed, they studied math, science, social studies and literature and an elective at the six-week Summer Academy every weekday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
And they will return this fall for the year-round Afterschool Academy that runs from October to May.
Higher Achievement started 35 years ago in Washington, D.C., and has since expanded to Alexandria. Va., Baltimore and Richmond, Va.
Members of this inaugural class in Pittsburgh went through an interview process with their parents and were selected with the understanding they would participate through eighth grade, said Higher Achievement Pittsburgh Director Wendy Etheridge Smith.
The nonprofit studied Pittsburgh to determine if it would be financially viable to start a program here and if there was a demand and adequate mentors.
"I had people tell me students wouldn't do it," Ms. Smith said.
But they have come. Parents have helped get them out of bed to make it on time, Ms. Smith said, although they may protest in the summer.
Ms. Smith said her team will focus on strengthening peer relationships with this group in the fall. She hopes here team members identify as "scholars" as they're called in the program -- not with the neighborhoods they come from.
"You're not Homewood, you're not the Hill District. You are Higher Achievement," she said.
"Olympics of the Mind" also hosted a science fair and other academic competitions in subjects like math and literature. Boys and girls from both the Hill District Center and Homewood Center performed chants.
"We're from the Hill, that's how you know we're real," the girls sang.
They also chanted some variation of "We've got knowledge, and we're going to college." At the end, each named off the school she hopes to attend.
Correction/Clarification: (Published August 5, 2012) The "Olympics of the Mind" academic competition for middle school students was held Friday at Carnegie Mellon University. A story Saturday incorrectly reported when the event took place.
First Published August 4, 2012 12:00 am