Last fall, Maanas Goel ’23 set his sights on competing in the Physics Olympiad — a demanding multi-round set of exams from the American Association of Physics Teachers that’s ultimately used to form an elite 20-member U.S. team that competes in an international event of the same name in July.
Science and Mathematics Teacher Ben MacBride estimates that Goel clocked more than 100 hours of his own study time for the first test, a 75-minute multiple-choice exercise on Newtonian mechanics. But perhaps most impressively, the Fifth Former made sure he didn’t make the journey alone. Instead, he brought many of his classmates into the fold. He founded a new Physics Club at SPS and organized weekly meetings for the group. For many of the sessions, Goel led the members in preparing for the Olympiad competition, bringing in practice problems for his fellow students to solve, helping them nearly every step of the way.
“Maanas commented to me that he felt that in helping others prepare for the exam by explaining the solutions to them, it really boosted him up to the level required for him to advance,” says MacBride.
In all, more than 4,600 high school students from across the country took the Olympiad’s first-round test in February, including 12 from SPS. Just 400 of them scored high enough to advance to the next round. One of them was Goel, who in April competed in the second round, a three-hour exam that covered all the topics of physics, from mechanics and electricity to magnetism and thermodynamics. Goel is the first SPS student to advance that far in the event. Final scores will be released in May.
MacBride marvels at all that Goel has accomplished, both for himself and for others. “His performance demonstrates that he has a strong intuition for the underlying physics of the universe,” MacBride says. “He possesses a tremendous work ethic, and his ability to think critically and solve problems presented to him is first rate.”
Goel isn’t alone in his success. Over the last several months, SPS students also placed prominently in several other high-profile academic events: The National Chinese Language Speech Contest (NCSC), the National Latin and Greek Exams, and the American Mathematics Competition (AMC).
In the NCSC, SPS continued its tradition of strong results. For the event, which concluded April 9 and drew 550 students from 37 states, participants constructed an original piece of writing that they memorized and performed live over Zoom, after which they answered several rounds of questions from a panel of judges. Four SPS students placed: Elizabeth Painter ’22 (third place, Advanced), Beatrice Selch ’24 (honorable mention, Intermediate), Sebastian Brigham ’24 (second place, Intermediate), and Mako Irisumi ’22 (first place, Novice).
“I’m so incredibly proud of my students,” says Chinese Teacher Zhaohong “Jenny” Li, who heads the School’s Language Department. “They put two months into preparing for this contest. It’s hard to convey how much commitment, determination and motivation it took for them to perform the way they did.”
The winning work touched on a range of topics, from the meaning of home to the importance of family culture in Chinese life, and the study that went into crafting them, says Painter, both elevated her appreciation for the language and drew her closer to the greater Chinese community.
“While I’ve always found Chinese fascinating, participating in this competition transformed this interest into a profound love as I realized the extraordinarily expansive community of students studying Chinese,” she says. “The NSCS competition united students across America in their passion for Chinese language and culture, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to share my own experience learning Chinese.”
Seventy-eight SPS students took part in this year’s National Latin Exam, 57 of whom received some recognition for their performance, including 30 gold medals and summa cum laude honors. Depending on their level, students took exams in Beginning Latin, Intermediate Latin, Intermediate Reading Comprehension, Advanced Prose, Advanced Poetry and Advanced Reading Comprehension. Of the group, Sixth Formers Jackie Chen, Finn Goss, Olivia Kim and Tony Xiao have been invited to apply for National Latin Exam scholarships based on their performances. Chen also will receive a special certificate for earning a perfect score on the Advanced Reading Comprehension exam and she and Anna Zoltowski ’23 will each receive National Latin Exam Book Awards for earning gold medals on ascending levels of the exam in four consecutive years.
In addition, 15 students took the National Greek Exam, with test topics that include Intermediate Attic Greek, Advanced Attic Greek, Advanced Attic Prose and Homeric Greek. While results are still being tallied, Ryan B. Samuels, Director of the Classical Honors Program at SPS, is optimistic about the results.
“Although we don’t intentionally design our curriculum with these exams in mind or devote special class time to preparation,” he says, “our students’ success on these tests shows that our classical language and literature sequences are well aligned with national standards and our students are reaching high levels of attainment relative to their peers at other schools.”
SPS also had a strong showing once again in the American Mathematics Competition. Forty-one students competed in the event, a single 75-minute multiple choice exam held in November. Of those 41, four students — Robert Gao ’23, Luis Lee ’23, Junho Moon ’23 and Kevin Wu ’25 — placed high enough to earn an invitation to sit for American Invitational Mathematics Exam (AIME) in February.
“The competition is important for our students as it allows them to be competitive in their problem-solving skills, which is helpful,” says Mathematics and Computer Science Teacher Caroline Darling ’10. “Many will surprise themselves with how well they do, and it’s fun for the faculty to see how well they do.”
Overall, says Dean of Studies Lori Bohan, the student achievements in each of these academic events — as well as the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards
announced earlier this month and the performances of St. Paul's School Ballet Corps members Andrew Fleischner '22 and Katya Chernyshev '22
at the Youth America Grand Prix Finals April 16 and 17 — stand as something the entire School community can be proud of.
“It is wonderful to have the good work of our students recognized by these other organizations,” she says. “These students put forth additional effort to participate, beyond what they bring each day to their classes. I am grateful for the support our teachers have given to our students to prepare so thoroughly. We are all inspired by the students’ talent, motivation and hard work.”