Massive Washtenaw Elementary Science Olympiad sparks students’ interest in science at critical time

Story, photos and slideshow by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News

 At the annual Washtenaw Elementary Science Olympiad (WESO) held Saturday at Pioneer High School, 40 schools across Washtenaw County sent second, third, fourth and fifth grade teams to compete in what is believed to be the largest of its kind in the world.

“There is no other event that brings together 40 elementary schools from Washtenaw County under one roof,” said Gilda Johnson, a member of the WESO board and owner of the Lake Forest Golf Club.  “The kids love to represent their schools and to cheer on their team mates in an academic setting. Learning is celebrated, sharing of knowledge is celebrated. It is amazing what the kids are able to learn.”


About 2,300 students participated in a selection of 23 events ranging from aerodynamics to gravity racer to water rockets—all designed to teach science through active, hands-on, group participation.

Not all schools participate in all events; it is not easy to find volunteers to coach each of the events. Schools rely on volunteer parents, and older students to coach the students.  Larger schools often have an easier time finding volunteers, so they participate in more events. The more events schools participate in, the greater the chance for medals.


The olympiad filled the high school, with competitions in classrooms and fields while in the cafeteria annex, students visited exploratory stations in physics, chemistry, biology, math, and technology led by representatives from local organizations.

“We live in a very sports centric society,” said Johnson. “WESO provides kids another avenue to participate in a team that it is not a sports team, but where team work, collaboration, and skill are also celebrated.”


She noted that at the elementary school level, WESO also helps start to create a community among parents.

“We are a 100 percent volunteer organization,” she said. ‘WESO helps bring in parents who would very much like to volunteer and give back to their schools, but may not be familiar with the more traditional volunteer opportunities.”

She said that many of today’s volunteers are parents whose kids have long left elementary school, but are still eager to give back to the schools.

“The collective and collaborative efforts of so many parents, students, and community leaders in support of science education is what makes WESO truly unique and strong,” said Johnson.

WESO’s roots date back to Pattengill Elementary 14 years ago, and the olympiad has grown every year since then.


Pioneer science teacher Ron Robinson is a supervisor of the “Infinity and Beyond” event, and an ardent supporter of WESO.

“This style of competition works wonders for second through fifth grade, a very critical time in their lives where they need to be sparked in order to go into those areas in middle school and then high school,” he said.

Robinson said there is no other competition he knows of that includes such a range of events.  He applauds the work of the WESO Board, who represent such a diverse background.

“They work on this year-round,” he said. “They’ll be starting again on Monday.”

The 2016 WESO medal results are available here: 2016 Medal Results

The WESO Board works year-round on the olympiad.
The WESO Board works year-round on the event, the largest of its kind in the world.  Pictured in the front row are Zali Mustapha, Hedieh Briggs, and Susan Blackburn. Middle row: Nancy Dean and Nirmala Rajaram. Back row: Don Bruey and Gilda Johnson. Not pictured are board members Jeff Micale and Jane Levy.

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