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Seminole students excel in Sagemont science fair

From left, Valholly Frank, Ohitika Billie, Caidence Smith, and Alisa Brooks hold up their poster boards Nov. 18 as part of the Sagemont School’s science fair in Weston. (Stephanie Rodriguez photo)

WESTON — Four Tribal students who attend the Sagemont Upper School in Weston tested their own hypotheses, created experiments, and discovered conclusions to their science projects in the school’s annual science fair Nov. 18 as part of a competition where only 10 spots make it to regional finals.

Sagemont encourages young minds to think through scientific inquiry and problem solving. The top projects will be selected to represent the school at the Broward County School Science Fair regional competition in February 2017.

The school, known as one of the top private schools in Broward County, has had winners in the past place in the county, regional, and state competition for the science fair. In order for students to qualify for the fair, projects that earned an “A” or a “B” were considered for the competition.

One student with high scientific aspirations created an intricate and advanced experiment about the inhibitory effects of sweeteners on beneficial gut bacteria.

“When I was presenting in the actual science fair; I had one science teacher asking me a lot of questions about it and I used fancy terms and some of the seniors didn’t really know what I was talking about and it felt a little awkward,” said Valholly Frank, 13.

Valholly spent about 30 hours creating her experiment in a lab with Sheryl van der Heiden, Florida Atlantic University professor for Biological Sciences, just to enter the science fair.

“The project was really hard to experiment on, yet a lot was learned,” Valholly said.
Ohitika Billie, 12, decided to make his experiment about the growth of mold on different types of bread, such as store-bought bread and homemade bread.

“It was tedious because we had to rush and print everything the next day,” Ohitika said. “My goal is to at least get an award place even though my project didn’t have the right materials.”

Ohitika said he didn’t have plastic bags that he needed in order to reach the conclusion he sought and that his bread got stale.

“There’s no such thing as a bad question, and there’s no such thing as bad information; all information gathered properly is valuable,” said Rhonda Roff, Valholly’s mom. “It’s so important for kids to learn how to recognize they have the power to learn how to answer their own questions; they no longer have to rely on someone else to answer it. It’s powerful for them.”

Caidence Smith, 12, is an example of a student that had an inner question and wanted to find the answer.

Caidence opted to focus on proving if her dog, Nina, has a higher respiration rate before or after exercise. She tested Nina’s breathing for 15 seconds prior to exercise and multiplied the number by 4 in order to get the total inhalation per minute number. Later, she played with her dog for five minutes and repeated her math once more.

Caidence repeated this process for four days, alternating games she played with her dog such as fetch, tug-of-war, running, and playing with a Frisbee in order to have a definitive conclusion to her experiment.

“I had fun working on my science project, and I hope I get to go to nationals,” Caidence said.

All the Tribal kids who entered the science fair had their own unique flair and decided on their projects for different reasons.

Alisa Brooks, 12, selected a topic that she researched online. She decided to find out how much salt an egg needs to float for her experiment. As it turns out, after three trials, the answer is two and a half teaspoons using a boiled egg without the shell, according to Alisa’s findings.

“I thought the picture on the internet looked cool and it interested me,” Alisa said. “My reaction at my result was ‘Oh my God; it’s floating,’” she said.

Learning and testing the methods in their projects proved to be as educational for the students as the final results.

“Science is eliminating all variables and focusing on one in order to determine the answer,” Roff said.