Flat Rock Elementary School’s Academically and Intellectually Gifted (AIG) students recently captured national honors in the Sumdog Mathematics Competition in their first outing in the Internet competition that was decided in a race to the wire. AIG teacher Melissa Sanders said a total of 634 schools played in the competition, representing a total of 41,400 students playing.
“They (Flat Rock AIG students) need to be pushed (to learn more) even if they don’t want to. This is a contest that gives them incentive to push themselves,” said Sanders, who admitted the 19 students who qualified to compete from Flat Rock often had an even harder task before them because she set the contest problems above their grade level. Flat Rock’s top two competitors are fourth-grader Maddie Combs-Marshall and fifth-grade student Miguel Paredes. She said the competition was held between Feb. 8-14.
“I kinda kicked them in the foot from the beginning,” said Sanders. “I set Maddie’s difficulty level up to fifth grade and Miguel’s to sixth grade,” recalled Sanders. “There were some of those problems they’d never seen before, but my job is to challenge them. This was a fast-paced competition played against others from across the nation.” She said Combs-Marshall finished in 117th place in the nation with 914 problems correct and Paredes finished 156th with 906 correct.
Sanders said the drama for the second smallest elementary school in the Surry County School district began from the beginning.
“We started out and right off the bat, we were in the top 80. Then we moved into the top 60, and they really got excited when we were in the top 30,” said Sanders. “We are the only other small school in our district. Mountain Park is the smallest.”
She recalled how the students’ excitement went up another notch on Feb. 13 when they found out Flat Rock was 17th in the nation. By the time students left school the next day they were behind number 11.
“We were really making sure everyone had done their problems at that point,” said Sanders. “By the end of the day, Maddie was the only one left with problems available and were in second place, nine points behind the leader.” Sanders calculated that each member of her team had to do 1,000 problems so they would have a chance at placing. Word reached Combs-Marshall as she was climbing in her car to go home. She had until 8 p.m. to finish.
“It was up to Maddie. She finished her questions late. The kids kept in contact with each other to see how we were doing as the final results came in,” said Sanders. “At 7 p.m. we led by 16 points and Maddie was out of questions so we had to hold our breath for an hour.”
The school’s prize was access to Sumdog premium features software which allows features for more learning opportunities. Combs-Marshall remembered seemingly everyone telling her to get home and finish her problems.
“I said (to them) I will, I will, I will,” said Combs-Marshall. “I was really scared I’d get the problems wrong. It was a long hour to wait.”
Paredes had his share of tension as well. The contest did not start smoothly for him.
“They kept hitting me with really hard questions and you only have a couple of minutes to finish the game,” said Parades. “On some of the problems I had to do all of them because there were no shortcuts I could take.”
Sanders said it has been heartening to see the attitude Flat Rock could be the little school that could gradually take hold of the staff and other students. She praised the support of Principal Molly Anderson for helping get the whole school excited. She said students also have felt honored by the local convenience store, Best Buy, giving them free slushies in recognition of the victory.
She said she and Anderson psyched the AIG students into believing the official winner had not been determined (when it in fact had been). Anderson then announced the group had won the nationals.
“We had them convinced we didn’t know. The look on their faces when the hallways erupted in applause was wonderful,” concluded Sanders.
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1952.