PATERSON, NJ – The students were pretty much strangers more than a month ago. Some attended School No. 5 in the 1st Ward; others were from Don Bosco Tech Academy in the 2nd Ward.

Their schools were about 13 blocks apart, but they were asked to come together as one team in Paterson’s Math Olympics. Since then, they have grown into friends and teammates.

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“It was hard at first,” said Muminul Islam, an eighth grader in Don Bosco. “But when we got to know each other, it got easier.”

No one was quite sure how long their combined team would stick around in the citywide math competition. “School 5 and Don Bosco aren’t known to be really good schools,” said Don Bosco’s eighth grader, Mahfuj Hussain.

Well, the field in Paterson’s Math Olympic was narrowed down to three teams on Saturday, and one of those that remains in contention is the combined squad from Don Bosco and School No. 5.

“We weren’t sure whether or not we would make it here,” said Hussain.

Along with the underdogs from Don Bosco/School No. 5, the other teams that reached next Saturday’s finals are School No. 9 and Norman S. Weir.

In its first year, the Math Olympics are designed to put students’ academic achievements in the same spotlight normally reserved for athletic accomplishments.

“The competition is promoting teamwork amongst the schools,” said Marlene Harvey, a sixth grader teacher in School 27.

“Our students are smart,” replied Dr. Joseph Atallo, a sponsor of the event. “They can compete anytime, anywhere, any place, with the best and come out on top.”

The competition has exposed the students to situations that await them next year. The sixth graders and the seventh graders are getting a taste of the type of math problems they will be asked to handle as eighth graders. Now, all the elementary school competitors are performing in a high school setting.

For the first three weeks, the Math Olympics had taken place in the New Roberto Clemente gymnasium, but the semifinals were held at International High School.

The new location gave some students motivation, but it made others apprehensive.

“Being in a high school made me nervous,” said Mahjabeen Siddiqi, a sixth grader in School 27.

 “The new environment raised the bar,” replied Norman S. Weir’s eighth grader, Jeremy Gray. “The high school setting made it more serious.”

The first-place team members will get iPads, while the second and third place teams will receive electronic readers. The finals are next Saturday, June 25, in the auditorium of International High School at 9 am. For more information, log onto