FARMINGTON — Hoping to tap into her students' potential, a teacher at Navajo Preparatory School restarted their science fair after 15 years, leading the students to sweep several categories at the Navajo Nation Science Fair.

In the seventh to 12th grade category, Navajo Prep students won first place across seven categories at the Navajo Nation Science Fair.

Held at Red Rock State Park in Gallup on Feb. 27, 19 students competed in categories like biology, behavioral science and chemistry.

Along with winning the biology category, junior Crystal Stewart won the Grand Champion award with the highest score overall amongst all the students competing.

Physics and biology instructor Yolanda Flores said she was eager to bring back the science fair to the private school.

"I saw the potential in all of the kids," Flores said. "They are very eager to participate and this is something we need to bring out in the kids ... They were really receptive to it."

Flores assigned the projects at the beginning of the school year in August 2012 and would often stay late to help students as they developed their projects.

About 42 students participated in the school-wide science fair, with the school taking the first and second place winners to the Navajo Nation Science Fair. The only category Navajo Prep didn't win was animal science, an area no student participated in.

Flores said she hoped students would carry the lessons of assembling a long-term project towards projects in their other classes.

"They are doing their research and following the scientific process," Flores said. "This can be helpful for them in the future."

Flores' goal of tapping into the potential of her students could not be more apparent than Grand Champion performance from Stewart.

"I was really shocked that I won," Stewart said. "I was really into this whole project and I thought I wasn't going to win but I did and I was really happy about that."

Stewart's project was inspired by the importance the corn crop plays in the Navajo culture. She focused on how magnets affect seed germination and growth in corn plants.

"Our whole culture revolves around corn and I wanted to see if magnets could help us grow more corn," Stewart said.

Using two groups of three plants, Stewart placed magnets in the soil around one group while the other was used as the control for comparison.

Stewart monitored three aspects of growth of the corn plants in both groups. Time to seed germination, height and number of leaves were accounted for in the project.

The corn was affected by the magnets, leading the test plants to achieve seed germination two days early and growing an average of 17 percent taller over the control plants during the testing period.

Stewart said she believes the magnet acted as a "steroid" to the iron in the corn.

"I was thinking that farmers could use this to help their crops grow faster," Stewart said.

Winning the Grand Champion title was encouraging for Stewart, who is interested in the health science program at the University of New Mexico after visiting with representatives at a recent career fair.

"I think I would (like) to do science more. I didn't think I was that good at science," Stewart said. "My whole project, from day one, I was weary of but as I progressed, I started liking it more each day."

The students who took first place will travel to the Arizona State/National Science and Engineering Fair on April 1 in Phoenix, Ariz.

Flores said she is just as eager as the students for next year's school science fair.

"The freshman are telling me, Ms. Flores, if you are not my teacher (next year), can I do a project again?'" Flores said. "I opened the idea to them and maybe the other science teachers will join in too."

Joshua Kellogg may be reached at jkellogg@daily-times.com; 505-564-4627. Follow him on Twitter @jkelloggdt