Pleasanton Weekly

News - July 2, 2010

Harvest Park Middle School team + math = winners

Cool, but not too cool for school

by Glenn Wohltmann

A team from Harvest Park Middle School is defying the stereotype of smart kids. These middle-schoolers, who are going through the same experiences as their peers -- growing up, fitting in -- say liking math and being cool aren't mutually exclusive.

They are seriously smart, too. The Harvest Park MATHCOUNTS team has won state and even national recognition. This year alone, the team won the Diablo Chapter championship for the sixth consecutive year; placed second in the state championship; and sent one student, Eugene Chen, to the national competition in Florida.

In the statewide competition at Stanford University, Chen scored a perfect 46 points in the individual round, then finished first in the Countdown Round for the second consecutive year. His perfect score gave him a second-place finish and earned him a spot on the California team. His Harvest Park teammates were among the 150 students who watched the live webcast of the national results and saw Chen compete as part of the National Champion California team where he individually finished in fifth place.

Two additional students qualified for the state championship as individuals: Rick Huang, who finished seventh, and Christine Xu, who placed eighth in the Diablo Chapter competition.

MATHCOUNTS is a national math enrichment, coaching and competition program. The competition consists of three rounds: Sprint, which is 30 questions in 40 minutes without a calculator; Target, four pairs of questions in six minutes per pair with a calculator; and Team Round, 10 questions in 20 minutes solved collaboratively with calculators.

Teacher Randy Lomas has coached the team at Harvest Park for years but called this years' squad an exceptional one.

"They are a special group," said Lomas. "I've never had one quite like this in all my years of teaching."

Lomas said the team meets year round to practice, even when he's not there to lead them. Last summer, for example, he was on jury duty and eighth-grader Jerry Li led the group.

"They are so driven. I've never had a group that got together without me," Lomas said. "Low and behold, it paid huge dividends. They've got a large and intrinsic motivation."

There are as many explanations for joining MATHCOUNTS as there are team members.

"We're cool because we do math," said Xu, an eighth-grader.

Huang, a seventh-grader, said it "gets people to think."

Eighth-grader Brian Shimanuki said the challenges go beyond the "drill and kill" classroom work.

Chen, who works hard not to smile in pictures taken of him, said the best part of his experience was the free trip to Florida.

Despite their gift for all things mathematic, these young teens were easily enough distracted to run out in the middle of a meeting last week to check out a short hailstorm.

Find out how your math skills measure up by going to www.artofproblemsolving.com.

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