Prime Time: Cleveland Middle School dominates county math competition

kjahner@newsobserver.comFebruary 25, 2014 

Cleveland's top math team won first place in Johsnton County's Math Counts Competition on Feb. 6 and finished in the top 20 in the Triangle region. From left to right: Principal Ken Byrd, Philip Hunt (first place individual), Sarah Volcjak (third place), Dylan Reggling (seocnd place), Samareth Patel, and Coach Jill Helms.

JOHNSTON COUNTY SCHOOLS

— Jill Helms has led the top Math Counts competion team in Johnston County several times. But even the veteran Cleveland Middle School teacher was impressed by the dominance of this year’s team.

Cleveland produced the top three individual finishers in the county-wide competition and five of the top 10, and those scores propelled them to first place in the team competition on Feb. 6.

Philip Hunt took first place overall, followed closely by teammates Dylan Reggling and Sarah Volcjak. The individual scores figured into the scores when the collaborative four-member team competion started, and those three along with Samareth Patel held off the county’s other 13 middle schools.

“Usually you don’t have the top 3 from one school. Usually the top 10 from different schools, maybe two in the top 10,” Helms said. “That was a pretty big deal. I was pretty impressed.”

The team went on to a regional competition at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, where they finished 19th among 37 schools competing from Wake, Durham and Orange County that had also qualified from their local competitions.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” Helms said of the heightened competition at regionals.

The competition tests a variety of math schools including algebra, which most of Helms’ students are taking this year. Almost the entire team this year – and all five with top-10 Johnston County finishes – were eighth graders.

Helms said that in six or seven years of coaching the competition, her teams have won five times. Experience helps, she said.

“I’ve been teaching it for 23 years,” Helms said. “After doing it (that long), I know what I’m looking for, I know what works.”

Going into the competition, she didn’t necessarily have this team pegged to dominate. She said students taking geometry at the time of the competition had fared better in the past, and that she worreid about some of the higher level questions.

But she also said the group, which she classified as generally quiet and meticulous, also was very “self-motivated,” with many of them doing extra math at home “that their parents have them working on.”

“I thought they could (do well),” said Helms, who taught science at Scotland High in Laurinberg for four years before coming to Cleveland. “They kicked behind, as you would say.”

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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