ARMAGH — This year, the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science team at United High School is sending four students — Emma Arblaster, Hannah Brown, Ashley Penrose, and Jordan Penrose — to the state competition, May 18-20 at Penn State University, State College.
Mikel Balsley is the PJAS adviser for United High School. He explained that for PJAS, “students outside of school develop a hypothesis and an experiment that they would like to do. They then go out and test that experiment on their own and put together a project about it. Later at a competition, they present all the background research they did and the project and then get judged based on a rubric.”
PJAS is organized by “the whole state. It’s a statewide event, and there are different regions that participate. Our region president for this area is Robert Penrose (a science teacher at United Junior High),” Balsley said. He added that the students aren’t chosen for PJAS, but, “every student has the opportunity (to participate). The students that go have chosen to participate on their own.”
When asked if the team participates in competitions, Balsley responded, “Yes, two. One is the regional competition, which happened Feb. 22 at Slippery Rock. (The students) were judged by rubric and if they got first place, they were able to go on to states, held at Penn State University in May.”
This PJAS year so far has gone “well,” Balsley said.
“Seven participants went to regionals, four members of the group got first place, two got second place and one member got third. This means that four students will be passing on into the state competition.”
Balsley said his hopes for the rest of the season are that “the kids do well at states; the goal is for them to win. They all tweak their original projects with the criticism given to them by the judges. There will be stricter grading this time due to more competitors. You’re not judged against other people, however, but against a rubric. Technically, everyone could get first place. Those who go above and beyond can be rewarded with cash prizes and even scholarships.”
Jordan Penrose, a ninth-grader; Brown and Ashley Penrose, seventh-graders; and Arblaster, an eighth-grader, are the participants in PJAS whose projects all made it into the state competition. When asked how they were enjoying PJAS this year, Jordan Penrose responded, “(It’s) not bad, but (it’s) weird having new people in it.”
“(PJAS) was very good, very fun. It was my first time, (and it was a) good experience,” Brown said. Ashley Penrose said that she thinks PJAS is “a very good experience,” and Arblaster added, “I like it because it’s a fun experience. It causes you to learn, helps you to present in class and to prepare for the upper grades.”
In addition, Jordan Penrose said that after “three years” in the program, her favorite part would have to be “going to states and getting ice cream while at Penn State; they have an awesome creamery,” while Brown said that this is her “first year competing,” but her favorite part of PJAS so far is “watching everybody else’s experiments. It was a good program overall, nice and well put together.”
[PHOTO: United High School students, from left, Ashley Penrose, Emma Arblaster, Hannah Brown and Jordan Penrose will be attending the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science state competition May 18-20 at Penn State University. (Submitted photo/United High School)]
All the girls competed in the regional competition, placed first, and will be competing at the state level. They all said their hopes for states are to “get a first place.” Brown said that the project she will be presenting is on “memory tests and what foods and drinks boost your memory,” and Jordan Penrose’s experiment is about “if texting affects your reaction time to things.”
Ashley Penrose’s study is about “what colors are ants attracted to most,” and Arblaster is working on a project about “curdled milk, to see the changes in the different spoiled milks both physically and chemically.” Brown’s personal accomplishment this year was “getting first place, and it’s my first year, so that’s a plus,” and Jordan Penrose’s was “making it to states.”
Arblaster said she is proudest of “learning more about presenting and getting the feeling and confidence to be able to present in front of people,” and Ashley Penrose said her biggest personal achievement for PJAS would be “getting first place, for the first time; I was proud.”
Jordan Penrose added that the reason she joined PJAS again this year was because “I heard about it and it sounded interesting. It’s a good program and I highly recommend it if you want to get into science.”