Students’ news smarts pay off in Las Vegas competition

Take note, kids: Read newspapers and win a trip to Sea World.

It worked for Martin Middle School students who received a trip to San Diego for winning A Test for Excellence, a competition that assesses students’ knowledge about current events.

The eight members of the winning team are scheduled to fly Thursday morning to San Diego and return that evening. The trip is sponsored by Southwest Airlines .

Five teams competed May 11 at Martin Middle School, 200 N. 28th St.

Middle schools participating included Del Webb, Fertitta, Harney and Martin. There were two teams representing Martin.

Each student began the competition by completing a 75-question multiple choice news quiz that included local, national and international events from the past eight weeks.

The highest score on the quiz was 43 correct out of 75, but that’s pretty good for this competition, according to Beverly Mason, assistant director for the Clark County School District School-Community Partnership Program.

Students prepared by reading newspapers and websites for the past eight weeks.

After they finished their tests, students were treated to dinner sponsored by Chipotle.

Each team then had to take center stage in the theater for two oral rounds, hosted by Gary Waddell of Channel 8.

Teams picked a random topic out of a bowl, had 30 seconds to discuss it among themselves and had to give a two-minute presentation.

Judges included Dave Flatt of the Public Education Foundation, Larry Moulton of Williams Financial Group and Evan Spiegel, entrepreneur and former hotel manager for the Wynn.

The Martin team was asked to discuss the recent news of the death of Osama bin Laden.

They killed it. Each student took turns talking for 10- to 20-second intervals, as all were prepared for the possibility of having to answer that question.

Martin students said they stayed after school every day to prepare for the oral competition by reading news stories and telling 15-second synopses to their classmates. They also watched the local news every night, and some kept notebooks full of information that they used to review before the competition.

The second round of the oral competition allowed for each team to talk about any recent news topic that they hadn’t discussed the previous round.

Martin talked about Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget cuts to education, with another thorough, informative presentation.

Fertitta students finished in second place, and the other Martin team finished third.

Students on the first-place Martin team were Emma Burke, Marisa Caddick, Zachary Gorman, Grace Kang, Olivia Miller, Emma Muth, Connor Safbom and Kailee Watson.

Mary Carmalt and Kenneth Lantz were the teachers who coached the kids for the past couple of months.

“What I really like about the competition,” Carmalt said, “is that I get to encourage the reading of current events — which is hard to do.”

For some of the students, it was a great way to cap off their time in middle school.

“It means a lot to us eighth-graders,” Connor said. “It’s our last year, and we haven’t won before.”

Connor and others said the competition has helped them realize the importance of reading about current events and that they all plan to continue doing so even though the competition is over.

“It’s important to know what’s going on in the world,” Connor said. “It should be incorporated in schools. I think that would greatly improve test results, everything.”

Eighth-grader Olivia Miller has competed the past three years, too.

“It means a lot because I get to work with all these really cool people,” she said. “We put in a lot of effort and ended up doing really well. When I started in sixth grade, I was really shy. Now it’s amazing just thinking about how much I’ve grown and how much it’s helped me.”

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at or 224-5524.

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