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Whistler mathletes compete at University of Waterloo

WSS team finished 32nd in the Canadian Team Mathematics Competition earlier this month

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While it's pretty common to hear about Whistler students accomplishing impressive athletic achievements, one Whistler Secondary School (WSS) team recently proved that they're just as capable of leaving their mark on the academic world as they are on the snow, trails or ice.

Grade 12 students Rena Nakajima, Leah Brownlie and Lucas Unruh, along with Grade 11 students Molly Long, Lauren Wentzel and Angela Tangonan and teacher Katherine Colpitts recently returned from the Canadian Team Mathematics Competition, hosted by the University of Waterloo.

The team of "mathletes" finished 32nd amongst the 36 schools from New Brunswick and Ontario competing in the prestigious April 5 event. It was a successful inaugural performance for WSS, especially considering its student population is comprised of less than 500 students.

The Whistler students travelled the farthest out of all the groups at the contest, noted Long, adding, "It was cool to be there with other people from mostly Ontario."

Being the first WSS students to attend the competition made them "somewhat pioneers," Colpitts said.

"It's neat to put yourself out there and see where you land ... when we found out our results, we were at the closing dinner, and the kids were of course delighted that they didn't come last," she recalled with a laugh.

"...We really didn't know what to expect. Immediately they started dissecting where they could have gotten another point and improved their score and what they could have done differently. They're competitive."

The contest consisted of three components: a 10-question individual event, in which students' scores were added together for a cumulative total, a 25-question collaborative team event and a timed relay event, where each student had to solve one problem, with the next problem depending on the first student's answer.

"It's quite different from what regular math class is like in school, where you learn the basics of how to do all of the different kinds of math. These contests are designed so that you have to apply those to very creative questions. It's kind of a mixture of knowing how to do math and also having that kind of creative mindset," Nakajima explained.

"It was pretty exciting because we had been practicing so much, and then finally when we received the results for the team component we actually got our personal best there at the contest, which was kind of crazy because we weren't sure how we were going to perform under the stress (of the event)," she added.

The team spent months practicing for the competition, preparing individually and meeting every Wednesday at lunch since October-including a marathon nine hours of practice the day before the competition.

"I couldn't feed them enough questions; they were completely in the zone," Colpitts said. "At that point, learning new skills and content and math wasn't really on the table, but they were honing their ability to work together ... I couldn't have been prouder."

As it turned out, said Long, "The actual competition was harder than some of the practices we had done, but other than that it wasn't too hard; nothing was unexpected."

In addition to the months of mental preparation for the contest, the students also undertook another daunting challenge: to raise the $10,000 needed to fund their trip to Waterloo.

The six-student team came up with several fundraising initiatives to help meet their goal, including selling meat and coffee, assembling a silent auction and hosting a community night at Creekbread.

"I was really impressed by the commitment on the part of the students. I found the fundraising pretty daunting and a bit tiresome, but the kids-and maybe they've done more of it than I have-it didn't really seem to faze them," Colpitts said.

"We had a lot of support from the Whistler community."

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