Attachment-1Left to right: Knollwood School teacher Kristen Levy is pictured with sixth-grade students Leila Maldonado, Kira Fleischer and Jake Downie, during the Stars Science Competition held recently at Monmouth University.

Press release from Fair Haven School District

This past December, a group of observant students at Knollwood School in Fair Haven noticed a large number of their classmates coughing and sneezing their way through the day.

“Why is everyone so sick?,” they asked themselves. “And what can be done about it”?

The students — eighth-grader Reed DiCenso and sixth graders Aaron Bernstein, Jake Downie, Kira Fleischer and Leila Maldonado — suspected a link between inadequate hand-washing and the spread of viruses.

After conducting research, collecting and organizing their findings, and assembling data, the group made a compelling presentation at the 2014 Stars Science Competition at Monmouth University in West Long Branch on January 11.

Now in its fourth consecutive year, the Stars Science Competition is open to local middle school students. Twenty-seven teams from eight schools competed this year, in the competition sponsored by New Jersey-based Commvault, which provides the prize fund, and by Monmouth University and the Stars Challenge program.

The Knollwood students worked as a group to collect data and report their findings.  An impressive digital presentation and colorful poster, both of which outlined all the steps taken along the way, were presented on the day of competition by Jake, Kira, and Leila. The young scientists were accompanied at the Stars Science Competition by Knollwood fifth-grade teacher Kristen Levy, who assisted with the project.

“The Stars Science Competition provided a great opportunity for the students to speak clearly about their ideas and research, answering questions from judges and from students in other school districts,” said Levy. “They had a golden opportunity to interact with professionals who perform this type of research for a living.”

Members of local communities and the media are also invited to attend the Stars Science Competition and meet with the participating students throughout their visit. This year, student members of the High Technology High School Experimental Research Group acted as mentors to the younger students and assisted with the running of the competition.

The journey to the Stars Science Competition began when the Knollwood group suspected a possible link between the inadequate hand-washing they had observed at the school and an uptick in illnesses. When research confirmed the link, the group decided to find out a bit more about their classmates’ hygiene habits. They surveyed a number of fourth and fifth grade students and found that a majority of them washed their hands for less than twenty seconds. Armed with this information, they brainstormed a number of ways in which to encourage increased hand washing.

After sifting through the data and discussing the many plans, the group settled on two courses of action to motivate more students to wash their hands for an increased period of time.

First, the student researchers inserted squeakers from dog toys into the soap dispensers of the school’s student restrooms. They then surveyed the fourth and fifth graders again to see if the desire to push the soap dispenser handle and hear the squeaking sound would have a positive effect on hand washing.

After completing their research, they removed the squeakers and instead placed comic strips on mirrors above the sinks in the same restrooms, hoping that students would linger a bit while washing their hands.

After asking the fourth and fifth grade students about their hand-washing routines for  third time, they discovered that the squeakers had outperformed the comic strips.

The students presented their findings at the Stars Science Competition, and are continuing to work on the best solution that can be implemented at the school.

“Although we did not win an award at the competition, I am so proud of the students for pursuing this terrific opportunity and for pulling together the presentation in just three weeks,” said Levy. “I truly enjoyed collecting research along with the students in a collaborative effort.”

While the group had not settled on a solution in time for the presentation, Levy is sure that Knollwood students will benefit from their hard work.

“There will certainly be healthier days ahead,” she said.