Waldwick — For argument’s sake, let’s say that multi-colored balloons are patient heads.

And that plum tomatoes Scotch-taped on the balloons are their eyes.

Now, let’s imagine 10 teams of students from all over the state trying their very best to construct hydraulic arms capable of performing cataract surgery on these eyes without popping said heads.

Such was the challenge for the Waldwick Middle School’s inaugural STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) League Competition, held in the Waldwick Middle School cafeteria on June 1.

Following in the footsteps of the high school’s successful initiative, the program — spearheaded by district technology educator Jim Drechsel and middle school science teachers Fred Arevalo, Grace Mueller and Jessica Pollack — utilizes friendly competition to drive concepts of practical STEM applications and real-time problem solving skills.

"We had a tremendous success with the high school this year, with our last design theme which was Veteran’s Day," said Drechsel. "As it turns out, we had a tremendous comment from one of the parents that one of the eighth graders said he changed his mind about coming here to stay for the high school because of what we were doing with the STEM competition."

The high school’s last competition was held Nov. 11 and featured more than 60 students representing six schools, each required to engineer a protective armor system to keep an egg from breaking. The meet’s success sparked the idea of expanding it.

"Jim came up with the program and approached the middle school teachers, seeing if we’d be interested in becoming involved, and we said absolutely," said Pollack.

Drechsel and fellow coaches began working on the middle school version of the program in January. The coaching team first held a meeting to gauge students’ enthusiasm for the league. Sixty students said they were interested. To gauge responsibility and ability to meet deadlines, each student had to fill out a student contract and a Google form. Seventeen filled out the forms by the deadlines. Through an essay challenge, six finalists were chosen, along with two alternates.

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