Top finishers advance to the state MATHCOUNTS competition at UNM Centennial Engineering Center in Albuquerque on March 18

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FARMINGTON — Nearly 50 local students met at McGee Park this morning to test their skills in the annual MATHCOUNTS math contest.

The event, which has been held in San Juan County for more than 25 years, brought together sixth- through eighth-grade students from CV Koogler Middle School in Aztec, Naaba Ani Elementary School in Bloomfield and Rehoboth Christian School in Rehoboth, as well as Farmington schools Grace Baptist Academy, Hermosa Middle School, Mesa View Middle School and Tibbetts Middle School.

MATHCOUNTS is a national program that is designed to improve math skills among U.S. students. The program focuses on middle school students, which is a crucial age for developing and sustaining math interest and ability, according to a MATHCOUNTS press release.

The local competition was organized by the San Juan Chapter of the New Mexico Society of Professional Engineers.

The chief organizer for the MATHCOUNTS event, Toni Sitta, explained that the contest involved students competing in various timed rounds covering mathematical subjects such as geometry, algebra, probability and statistics.

"They're really hard questions," Sitta said.

Aiden Talcott, a seventh-grader at Grace Baptist School, said math is his favorite subject.

"It's fun to meet other students who also like math," he said.

Talcott's classmate Mercy Germany agreed that being around other kids who appreciate the virtues of mathematics is reassuring.

"I like being able to figure out problems, and I like the satisfaction when I do figure them out," she said.

Mark Johnson teaches math at San Juan College and coaches the Hermosa Middle School MATHCOUNTS team.

"This is my second year to coach," he said. "It's fun to see the middle schoolers get into things other than sports. It's also exciting to see how many kids like math — and they're not stressed out here about getting an A. They're just here for the fun of it."

Johnson pointed out that for the last few years, no Farmington middle schools participated in the MATHCOUNTS competition, and he said he wishes more schools were supportive of academic competitions such as this one.

"Could you imagine if none of the middle schools sent a team to a basketball competition? People would be fired," he said.

Nica Westerling works as an engineer for the city of Farmington and has been a MATHCOUNTS volunteer for 21 years.

"I love these kids," she said. "It's so awesome to see how fast they can do the math — even the (adult) engineers in the room are amazed. These kids are phenomenal."

Matt Cramer, president of the San Juan Chapter of New Mexico Society of Professional Engineers, pointed out that many of the kids at the competition will become future engineers and scientists.

"It's good for them to get excited about math," Cramer said. "Middle school is a key time — it's when kids decide to turn off or turn on to math. We're trying to encourage them to decide to turn on to math and to get excited about it."

Sitta said the top four teams and the top 50 percent of the individual competitors from today's contest will advance to the state MATHCOUNTS competition to be held at the University of New Mexico Centennial Engineering Center in Albuquerque on March 18.

Matthew Farnsworth and Brendon Johnson are eighth-graders who competed on the Hermosa Middle School MATHCOUNTS team this year.

Farnsworth said he appreciates the chance to participate in MATHCOUNTS, as it provides a challenge that's often lacking in the school setting.

"I also like competing because it's fun trying to prove who's smarter," he said.

Johnson, who hopes to go into computer engineering, agrees that MATHCOUNTS provides a unique opportunity for bright young minds like his.

"It really makes you think," he said.

Additional information about MATHCOUNTS can be found at www.mathcounts.org.

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621. 

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