Curiosity unleashed

Students at St. Katherine of Siena proved to be science wizards during a recent competition at St. Joe’s University.

Sharing science: Students at St. Katherine of Siena brush up on their science skills in preparation for the Science Olympiad, which was held at St. Joseph’s University. The team tied for third in the games. JOHN COLE/TIMES PHOTO

Of course, science can be fun. Just ask the students at St. Katherine of Siena Grade School in Torresdale.

For the third year in a row, students at St. Katherine’s participated in a Science Olympiad at St. Joseph’s University. Not only are they one of a few teams in Northeast Philadelphia to participate in this event, but they are the only Catholic school represented in this yearly competition.

Three years ago, seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher Lisa Laverty was approached by another member of the St. Katherine’s administration about the event and wanted to see what she thought of having her students participate in this challenge.

“I looked at the stuff going, she’s nuts, she’s crazy, I’ll never be able to do this,” said Laverty. “As I went through it, I’m going, wait, this isn’t bad. It was stressful, but it was manageable. It could be worked out.”

When Laverty decided to give it a go for the first year, “at least half of the student body” wanted to participate in the event.

“The kids crave science,” said Laverty. “They love science.”


The students start preparing for the event by November. Laverty designates a day in which she introduces all of the topics that will be dealt with at the Science Olympiad. After the students are presented with the variety of topics, they get the freedom to select whatever group they want to participate in. This year, there was a total of 16 different competitions to compete in.

The abundance in options excites the students. Just ask eighth-grader Michael McGerry.

“Science has really just been really interesting to me, as a whole, just everything as a topic,” said McGerry.

This is McGerry’s second year competing in the Science Olympiad, and he was excited to talk about what a unique competition his group participated in last year.

“Last year, I did food science,” said McGerry. “We really just had to make dairy products and stuff like ice cream and cheese and stuff. So, last year we made ice cream. It ended up tasting pretty good.”

Not only did the finished product taste good said, their group placed in the specific competition.

A total of seven or eight teachers are involved in the production, as students are spread out in various classrooms working with their specific groups after school once a week. The first year, the teachers were more apt to help out when they saw fit, but now they see the students feel much more confident in their abilities.

“Now, the kids kind of run it themselves,” said Laverty. “I’m just basically making sure that things are going the way they are supposed to go, everybody is in their spots, and everybody knows and everybody is on task for what they have to do.”

The past two years, the school finished in third place, and this year tied for third place.


As some of the students have gone onto high school since taking part in this competition, perhaps the most rewarding result of the event is not the place they finish, but their continued interest in the subject.

“A lot of them will tell me that, ‘I’ve never been interested in science before, but now I want to go into nursing or I want to go into the medical field,’ ” said Laverty. “The high school kids come back…. and say they learn from Science Olympiad.”

The majority of the students involved were seventh- and eighth- graders, but in May students from third to sixth grade at St. Katherine’s will participate in the competition for the first time in an elementary school bracket. ••

John Cole can be reached at