LITTLE FALLS, NJ - Passaic Valley High School (PVHS) students flexed their engineering muscles by competing in the third annual NJ STEM League competition, recently held at Bloomfield High School.

According to Kevin Haimowitz, PVHS physics teacher, the goal of the competition is to challenge students to work collaboratively and apply their math and science knowledge in practical and creative ways to solve complex problems and challenges.

There were originally 10 schools that were slated to participate in the competition, but due to standardized testing schedules, the event had to be pushed up and only three high schools were able to compete this year. The winning teams received certificates.

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Besides PVHS, the other participants were Bloomfield and Edison high schools. Each high school was allowed to enter two five-student teams.

Simple materials were used to complete both projects, which consisted of drinking straws, Styrofoam, Q-tips and rubber stoppers. The competing students were given no instruction for the materials they were provided with and had to work on their projects right on premises.

Students were allowed to shake the table the projects were placed on to simulate an earthquake. A time limit was also set for the completion of the projects during the competition. The PV student teams were the only ones to finish on time, according to Haimowitz.

The first team, comprised of PV sophomores, placed first for outstanding prototype. They were Emily Hyde, Michael Burgos, Tessa McCormick. Christina Folan and Lauren Hamilton.

The second team was comprised of PV junior year students, and came in second place in the competition. The team consisted of Shayam Desai, Thomas Swinarksy, Ryan Mitchell, Vincent DiNardo and Andre Collazo.

"The project was to make an earthquake resistant structure that would be practical to live in and had to be two stories," said Hyde, adding that the structure was to be 12 to 15 inches tall, with a base measuring one square foot.

"That's why we used the rubber stopper on the bottom so it would absorb any shaking," said Swinarsky. "One of the things we thought we could improve upon is making it look more like a home."

The students were also instructed to view other competing groups of students to see their ideas and attempt to improve upon those structures.

A research paper from each team was required for submission, along with the completed structure. In their papers, students covered topics on earthquakes and structures that are located in prone areas. Students detailed how they were able to adopt a design and make it resistant to collapsing and withstanding geological effects, including sketching plans for their ideas.

"This experience has allowed us to see if we're interested in building things, which falls under civil engineering, including other engineering or science fields," said Desai.

Haimowitz added that Mike Carlucci, supervisor of STEM, found the competition and suggested that students from the high school compete.

"We're looking to grow our other subject areas under CAD (computer aided design) and 'maker space' that falls under our STEM department here at the high school," he said. "I'm really proud of the kids. They represented Passaic Valley well. I hope they realize what a great education they're getting here and how it compares to the education other high schools are offering."