South Burlington and Champlain Valley high schools are tops in 2024 Brain Bee

BURLINGTON — On Feb. 10, the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont hosted the 2024 edition of the Vermont Brain Bee. Thirty-six students representing 10 high schools participated in the 15th Annual Vermont Brain Bee, or VBB.  This event tests students’ knowledge about the inner workings of the brain and nervous system, how we function and potential diseases.

Emma Blanchard, a senior from South Burlington High School (SBHS), captured first place. Alaina Tyler from Champlain Valley Union High School (CVU) earned second place; Sophie Kellogg from SBHS and Kennedy Desautels from Burlington Technical Center (BTC) tied for third.

Middlebury Union High School ninth-grader Cullen Myers made it to the final round of eight students (out of 35) to compete in the Final Oral Round of the VBB.

The Champlain Valley Union High School neuroscience team won first place in the 2024 Vermont Brain Bee. Shown with Brain Bee Coordinator Lisa Bernardin are student participants Elle McAvey, Jack Daly, Sebastian Lemos, Alaina Tyler and Winston Ross.

In addition to SBHS, CVU, BTC and MUHS, participating schools included Rice Memorial, St. Johnsbury Academy, Colchester High School, Mount Mansfield, Essex High School and Brattleboro Union.

After partaking in written and practical examinations, which included real brain specimens, the students observed two neurological and psychiatric case presentations by Sharon Leach, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at the Stern Center for Language and Learning, and Abby Ryan, Ph.D., who works as a neuropsychologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center. The cases presented this year involved neurological disorders of attention, anxiety, epilepsy and dementia. Many of the students showed they were learning to think clinically by generating questions about the possible differential diagnosis presented in the cases.

Following these cases, all students were tested through the first oral round, where questions were projected on a screen in the front of the room and students were given 30 seconds to answer each question.

Prior to the final oral round, Flatbread Pizza was served for lunch and a Keynote Presentation was given by Vermont Brain Bee Coordinator Lisa Bernardin, M.S., who delivered an engaging keynote talk, “Our Brains and How They Change.” It was described as a compelling and insightful story about her experience with TBI, or Traumatic Brain Injury.

“I was very inspired to see how Lisa (Bernardin) overcame her accident and used it as an opportunity to inform others of the impacts of TBIs,” said Rice Memorial senior Emilie Buttolph. “It takes a special person to overcome a TBI and an even stronger person to think of how they can help others with their experiences. I am very grateful to her for bringing the Brain Bee to Vermont, and hope that we can keep this program alive in our little state.”

Scores from the first oral round, the written exam, and the practical exam were calculated. The top eight students sat in front of the audience while questions were displayed overhead and responses judged by two neuroscientists: Tony Morielli, PhD, and Alicia Ebert, PhD, both from UVM. Twenty questions later, Blanchard was named the winner.

The team that accumulates the most points from all of the events wins the team competition. This plaque was awarded to South Burlington High School, which consisted of student participants Sophie Kellogg, Emma Blanchard, Elizabeth Nahstol, Charlotte Visger, Mateo Duracak and Paige Poirier. CVU took second as a team due to the hard work from Elle McAvey, Jack Daly, Sebastian Lemos, Alaina Tyler and Winston Ross. The third-place Rice team included Guillaume Bouramia, Emilie Buttolph, Jin Jeonghun and Keira Underwood.

The first place winner Emma Blachard cannot attend the national Brain Bee due to a prior commitment, so Alaina Tyler will attend the U.S. Brain Bee Championships in her place in Orlando, Fla., at the University of Central Florida, April 19-21.

There are now more than 60 competitors at the National level, which organizers said is proof that high school students’ interest in neuroscience is growing across the country.  Bernardin would love to reach more students in rural parts of the state so that they, too, can participate in this exceptional, exciting and free event. She expressed thanks to many sponsors and educational programs that have an impact on each of the students’ futures in science.

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