When the coronavirus pandemic threatened to sideline Ventura County’s most popular academic competitions, John Tarkany knew it was time to get creative. “We typically have hundreds of students and judges co-mingling and that’s just not possible right now,” says Tarkany who coordinates student competitions for the Ventura County Office of Education.
sciencefair-sqSo Tarkany and his counterparts across the state began looking for ways to hold student competitions virtually. For the Science Fair, he found an online platform called zFairs that lets judges conduct one-on-one video interviews with students about their projects while entering their scores. “In addition, the students can upload their data logs, bibliographies and pictures of their projects so the judges can review them ahead of time,” Tarkany says.
Mock Trial is normally held in real courtrooms with students portraying lawyers, witnesses and defendants in front of actual local judges. This year, everyone will come together virtually from home and conduct the trials online. “It literally is a virtual courtroom,” Tarkany says. “They don’t have to come together at all.”
In the Academic Decathlon, students face off by taking tests in a variety of subjects. The national organization that oversees the event has on online system that’s expected to be used here in Ventura County instead of having students gather in a high school gym as is usually the case.
Andrea Rubin, who assists in the huge task of coordinating the competitions, says the switch to virtual could lead to more students getting involved. “These competitions are more important than ever because of the scarcity of other extracurricular activities during the pandemic,” she says. “So, we may end up finding we have more students participating than we typically do.”
For Tarkany, anything that can be done to make this highly unusual school year a bit more normal is worth it. “Giving students the chance to participate in these events provides a sense of normalcy,” he says. “These are things they’re used to being part of and we want to provide that continuity for them.”
For more information about participating in Ventura County’s academic competitions, visit www.vcoe.org/competitions.