Locals to compete in Vermont Brain Bee

ADDISON COUNTY — The Vermont Brain Bee (VBB) — a neuroscience competition and day of exploration for high school students — celebrates its 10th year this weekend when the annual event tests youngsters on their knowledge of the human nervous system in a fun and competitive setting.
Students from both Middlebury Union High School (MUHS) and Mount Abraham (Mt. Abe) Union High School were among the earliest participants in the event when it started in 2010. The latest edition of the Bee will takes place this Saturday, Feb. 9, at UVM’s Larner College of Medicine in Burlington.
“We started with three schools — MUHS, Mount Abe and Champlain Valley Union High School — and 11 students, and now there are eight to 10 schools and 50 students each year that travel from as far away as Brattleboro and Bellows Falls to participate,” says Vermont Brain Bee founder and traumatic brain injury survivor Lisa Bernardin of Middlebury.
Since early November, 14 members of the MUHS Neuroscience Club have been meeting every Thursday morning before school to learn about the brain and prepare for the bee.
Bernardin launched the “Brain Science” club back in 2011, in order to help students prepare for the 2nd Annual Vermont Brain Bee. In 2014, retired MUHS biology teacher Paul Scaramucci took leadership of the club, which used to feature Middlebury College neuroscience students as teachers. This past September, MUHS science teacher Keith Wilkerson assumed the role of adviser and teacher. Wilkerson, who teaches content from “Brain Facts,” a primer published by the Society for Neuroscience for Brain Bee participants, typically uses a slide show to lecture on specific topics each week while the club members takes notes to study from later.
Neuroscience club President Grace Widelitz says that club members prepare for the Brain Bee using class notes and Wilkerson’s PowerPoint slides, as well as other resources, like brainfacts.org, which has articles and a 3-D model of the brain, and Quizlet.
“There are many, many great Quizlet sets out there that other people have made and cover everything you need to know,” she says. “Some of our club members attend the Brain Bee Boot Camp, also held at the University of Vermont, two weeks prior to the annual VBB. This is another great way to recap everything you know and figure out what you don’t, especially if you study the slides from the 2019 Boot Camp and quiz slides found on the vermontbrainbee.com website.”
There are seven enthusiastic competitors from MUHS and four students make up a team. Widelitz is joining with teammates Spencer Doran, Ken Barkdoll and Owen Polcsik. Also enthused about participating in this event are MUHS schoolmates Alice Ganey, Mary Nagy-Benson and Maeve Hammel.
At Mount Abe, students in the Neuroscience Club hosted by biology teacher Samantha Kayhart have spent an entire semester learning about their brains and studying the entire nervous system. Students Emily Tardie, Brynn Winchester, William Wright, and Erik McLysaght will be representing their school at the 2019 Vermont Brain Bee. Ryan Lathrop and Dee Gonet will also be representing their school.
To prepare for the competition, their group has studied diseases, basic neuroanatomy, and even the cellular level of the brain. Every Thursday, the club gathers to review material as well as quiz each other on the nervous system.
“I often teach my teammates,” says McLysaght, the club’s president. “I am very pleased to see how far each of them has come in the past few months. I love seeing every new member’s excitement, enthusiasm and dedication to neuroscience.”
Fellow Mount Abe senior William Wright has realized how important neuroscience is through this experience.
“Through Neuroscience Club, I’ve been able to gain a better understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the nervous system,” Wright says. “It’s a fun and valuable learning experience, and I firmly believe that discovering and understanding the interconnectedness of the body is the first step in tackling today’s most prevalent diseases.”
The students hope to teach the community about the importance of the nervous system during this year’s Brain Awareness Week, March 11-17.
Bernardin is amazed that 10 years have passed and is delighted that MUHS and Mount Abe have been consistent contenders and have captured the winning title on five of nine attempts.
“Over the years, it’s been thrilling to see so many Vermont high school students get intrigued by learning about their brains and nervous system and pursue the field of neuroscience in college and then careers,” says Bernardin.
The Vermont Brain Bee is supported solely through donations and has recently become a non-profit with 501(C)3 status. For more information visit vermontbrainbee.com.
Editor’s note: This story was provided by Lisa Bernardin.

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