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Scientific exploration is thriving at Bishop Guilfoyle, thanks in part to students Nick Nale, Robbie Byrne, Annie Bartel, and Brad Shaffer. These four are members of the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science (PJAS) and just this month, they participated in a regional competition at Penn State Altoona, coming away with impressive results. Nale, Byrne, and Bartel all finished in first place, moving them on to the state competition being held this May at University Park. Shaffer brought home a second-place finish. Nale also received a special judges award for his project.

According to the PJAS website, the group is part of a statewide organization of junior and senior high school students designed to stimulate and promote interest in science among its members through the development of research projects and investigations.

PJAS was established at Bishop Guilfoyle in 2000, at the request of freshman student Billy Hanlon and his middle school science teacher, Kathy Moran. “Billy approached me about becoming a sponsor and Kathy wanted to see her students continue at the high school level,” says Victoria Byrne, BG faculty member and PJAS Sponsor.

Through PJAS, students involved at BG work with teachers, and Byrne, to select a project, perform experiments and analyze results, giving participants the ability to expand laboratory skills, as well as become more proficient scientists. Byrne’s role is to mentor their interests and guide them through their research, eventually preparing the students for presenting them at a regional PJAS competition. The beauty of the club is that it allows students to identify their specific interests and pursue that research. “The students choose a science research project that they are interested in and I guide them through the process of developing a hypothesis, testing that hypothesis, collecting data, and analyzing the data to produce conclusions,” explains Byrne.

According to Byrne, participation in PJAS has shown significant benefits for students. “PJAS focuses on providing students with critical thinking experiences. Creating students that understand the scientific method and how to apply it to real world situations and problems is the goal of science education. Students that participate in PJAS have increased success in the science classes as well as other classes because they practice what they learn and teach it to others. Research shows that these two activities have the highest retention rates among learners.”

For students and parents alike, PJAS has been an overwhelmingly positive addition to the curriculum offered at BG. “Parents are very supportive of their children. PJAS is an excellent resume builder for college applications. Students can interview to receive letters of recommendation to the colleges of their choice. Seniors also have the opportunity to win scholarship money based on their interview and project success,” states Byrne.

Put simply, PJAS is a great way for students interested in sciences to explore for themselves. Students are encouraged to be creative, innovative and constantly push the envelope, giving them the opportunity to be involved in something interesting and exciting.