• At Nelson County Middle School's revived science fair, girls run the show

Nelson County Middle School science fair

Johannah Prye (left to right), Hannah Hunt, Kaylin Rose, Grayce Cookenour, Mariana Ortiz and Brianna Abshire stand with science fair judge Gary Strong.


Nelson County Middle School science fair

Mariana Ortiz (left to right), Grayce Cookenour, Kaylin Rose, Johannah Prye and Hannah Hunt enjoy a pizza lunch March 14 after finishing their science fair projects.


Nelson County Middle School revived its science fair and this year, girls ran the show.

The school stopped holding a science fair because of a change in the students’ daily schedule a few years back, according to Susan Galloway, a sixth-grade life science teacher.

In January, an opportunity presented itself to restart the annual science fair when the Nelson County Rotary Club approached the middle school science teachers and administrators with the idea.

An interest meeting was held for any student between sixth and eighth grade in January.

“At our initial meeting, we had about 45 kids interested. Out of those, we had six do a project,” Galloway said.

The six students who entered were coincidentally all seventh-grade girls. Of those six, two teams of two were formed. The other two students submitted individual projects. The projects ranged from finding out what humidity does to hair to researching the effect of age on eyesight.

“It was interesting we actually found out older people see better,” Grayce Cookenour, one of the contestants, said.

Cookenour worked with Kaylin Rose on “Does Age Affect Eyesight” from January until the project was due March 4. The pair won first place.

Gary Strong, the judge for the science fair, said they received first place because it was interesting their research proved the opposite of their hypothesis.

“They expected age to make recognition of the letters worse, but it got better with age.  They then tried to find out why that should be the case.  That might take a lot more research, but they at least gave it a go,” Strong said in an email on March 18.

Rose and Cookenour said they decided to look into the idea because of materials Galloway had in her classroom.

“Ms. Galloway had books we saw and we thought it would be interesting to look more into it,” Rose said.


Johannah Prye and Hannah Hunt paired up to find out how different liquids affect orbeez. Orbeez are superabsorbent polymers and can grow to more than 100 times their size with the addition of water. According to their project, other than water, Orbeez grew the most in sweet tea.

Mariana Ortiz presented a precipitation project and Brianna Abshire tested the effect of humidity on her hair.

“These projects were done on their own from start to finish,” said Galloway who provided the students with minimal help.

Strong said the girls had to present their projects to him and answer his questions.

“A lot was learned,” Strong said in an email on March 13.

Strong said the rotary club will be presenting awards to the six girls at the Nelson County School Board meeting April 11.

Thompson said the revival of the science fair was part of a bigger initiative in the community to enhance science, technology, engineering, and math based programs, known as STEM.

“When we had the rotary club interested in partnering with us for the science fair, we saw it as a great way to re-energize the students,” Thompson said.

Thompson said along with the science fair, the county now has a science advisory council to continue to enhance science interest in the schools. Thompson said the school division has also paired up with Wintergreen Nature Foundation to apply for a grant, which would give the schools an opportunity to expand the science curriculum over the next two years.

“We have created a bank of state and local resources,” Thompson said.

Next school year, the middle school hopes to start the science fair in the fall. Galloway said this would give them the opportunity to participate in the Piedmont Regional Science Fair.

“We are just really excited. The girls did a fantastic job and did it on their own,” Thompson said.