Princeton Charter School and West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North teams advance to National Science Bowl competition

Princeton Charter School students celebrate their 2021 New Jersey Science Bowl win.

Students from Princeton Charter School and West Windsor-Plainsboro High School tested their knowledge and skills at the U.S. Department of Energy’s New Jersey Science Bowl online competition last month and both won first place in their divisions in the regional competition, advancing to the nationals.

The Princeton Charter School’s middle school team, coached by Laura Celik and Suzanne Ritter, will go to the National Science Bowl for the fourth time in a row after defeating William Annin Middle School in Basking Ridge, which took second place. Highland Park Middle School took third place in the competition, and the Noor-ul-Iman middle school team in South Brunswick received the Spirit Prize for displaying the best team spirit and sportsmanship.

Local rivals West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North and West Windsor-Plainsboro South faced off in the regional finals, with the North team emerging victorious to claim the right to advance to the virtual National Science Bowl. West Windsor-Plainsboro South took second and The Princeton International School for Math and Science came in third.

Deedee Ortiz, the science education program manager at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab who organized the event along with the Department of Energy’s National Science Bowl team in Washington, D.C., said the competition was a success despite the challenges. “The students and coaches worked hard to prepare and it showed by their outstanding performance during the competition,” Ortiz said. “They did not let these obstacles deter them from showing off what they love, which is science. We are all so proud of them.”

Students said the competition made the effort worthwhile. The charter school team included Justin Feder, Nitza Kahlon, Vihaan Jim, Reed Sacks, and Albert Zhu. “I really enjoyed it,”  said Kahlon, an eighth-grader. “It’s something I missed because of COVID. I really enjoy competition, so it was fun.”

The Department of Energy Science Bowl team has been training and prepping for the event for the past several months and volunteers came from national laboratories, universities, and companies from all over the country. Unlike previous years in which students buzzed in to answer questions in a head-to-head double-elimination contest, students in the online contest competed against each other separately in their own virtual breakout rooms. The students and coaches sat at their computers for the competition, with one camera on their faces and another device showing their workstations. They were permitted to discuss their answers with the 11 middle school teams answering 15 toss-up questions each plus bonus questions, and the 32 high school teams answering 18 questions and additional bonus questions. With no scoreboard, the teams did not even know the winner until a brief ceremony after the contests had finished.

“I’m really glad we still have Science Bowl and they found a way to make it virtual,” said Suraj, a member of the West Windsor-Plainsboro South team. “I would have missed it if they didn’t have it.”

The winning teams this year will compete in the virtual National Science Bowl preliminary rounds in April, with the top 32 winning middle school and high school teams moving on to virtual elimination tournaments in May.

With many students attending school from home or a hybrid of at-home and in-school classes, coaches and students said the Science Bowl gave them a sense of normalcy.

“So many things are different this year,” said Laura Celik, the Princeton Charter School coach. “But at least we can do the Science Bowl.” 

West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North team members with Coach Kerry Pross, top left.