Taking homeschooling outside the house

In total, 18 participants ranging in grades K-12 were divided into categories to compete with the top two projects in each age category receiving awards.

Celine Lefor demonstrates her science fair project that won her first place in the third through fifth grade category. (Josiah C. Cuellar/The Dickinson Press)

Homeschool students from across the area headed to Dickinson on April 27, where they showcased their science fair projects at the West River Community Center’s Mac Gymnasium.

The students, members of the Southwest North Dakota Homeschool Community, are much like their peers in public and private schools — they get excited about field trips.

The science fair provided students the opportunity to show off their scientific interests and for the students to become the teacher as they helped educate others on their projects.

In total, 18 participants ranging in grades K-12 were divided into categories to compete with the top two projects in each age category receiving awards. The categories were Kindergarten through second grade; third through fifth; and sixth through 12th.

In the Kindergarten through second grade tier, students placing first and second were Mckenna Burich and Lily Scanlon respectively.


The third through fifth first grade tier awards were given to Celine Lefor and Teresa Scanlon.

In the final tier, Michaela Mitchell and Sierra Sitton were the top two student projects respectively.

Michaela Mitchell, Celine Lefor, Teresa Scanlon, Mckenna Burich, Lily Scanlon. The first and second place winners in the 2021 SWND Homeschool Science Fair. (Josiah C. Cuellar/The Dickinson Press)

Ken Knight, vice president of the North Dakota HomeSchool Association, and Park Ranger Lindsey Tabor were judges at the event and had a difficult time deliberating to name the winners, as according to them each project had merit.

“It's amazing because all of the projects blew me away… there were some that stood out because either the amount of work they put in or the thought processes or the ingenuity to come at things from a different angle that really impressed me… It was a great experience because this is an opportunity for these kids to open their hearts and their minds,” Knight said. “Talking to them and hearing their explanations was educational for me, not necessarily because I am picking up the scientific data, but learning how these kids think. What their focus is on and what is important to them, they are unique individuals that have futures that are going to be bright and wonderful and I am thrilled to be a part of it.”

Celine Lefor, a fifth grade competitor said that science is one of her favorite subjects.

“My project is called ‘Egg-ceptional Air Pressure.’ It is the project where an egg goes in and out of a bottle. It is all about air pressure… It is basically warm air that puts it in and out,” Lefor explained of her project. “I use a nail heater to warm the air up but it goes through conduction. It heats the glass and then the glass heats the air inside.”


Celine Lefor standing by her first place science fair project, 'Egg-ceptional Air Pressure.' (Josiah C. Cuellar/The Dickinson Press)

Lefor’s first science fair was a success and she said she was really surprised to receive first place. She also mentioned that she enjoyed seeing all the projects and how they were all really cool.

“I have been working on (my projects) for a couple of weeks because I tried two projects before this and both of them failed,” Lefor said. “I learned not to give up and keep trying and it's okay if you fail because not everything works, but you got to do your best.”

Sophomore participant Michaela Mitchell showed real intuitive thinking with her project, melding science and business with a flair in mathematical anomalies.

Michaela Mitchell is a sophomore and won first place —sixth through 12th grade— in the 2021 SWND Science Fair with her project covering Benford's Law. (Josiah C. Cuellar/The Dickinson Press)

“My project is about Benford’s Law. It is a mathematical formula that is being used more in science and business. It pretty much states that the first digits like one, two, three are used more like seven, eight, nine when it comes to any large set of data,” Mitchell said. “I alway loved math and I discovered this law with some research and I figured that might be a neat science project. So I just did three sets of data, found two that worked and one that did not work and I made a science project based on it.”


Mitchell said she hopes to see more high schoolers in future SWND Homeschool science fairs and that she hopes her participation will be an encouragement for those who are a bit timid to join next year. Mitchell praised her homeschool education, noting she is able to learn a more specific curriculum based on her interests — a program she says has allowed her to pursue her passion and grow.

Michaela Mitchell’s mother, Niki Mitchell, was amazed by all the work that students put into their projects and was proud to be able to help her daughter explore what she finds intriguing.

“We just try to do as many activities as we can as homeschoolers,” Niki Mitchell said. “We like to give her a wide range of activities to see what her interests are and then whatever she gravitates towards we work and build off that.”

Sarah Richens, Ken Knight, Miki Thompson and Lindsey Tabor congratutate all the kids that participated in the SWND Homeschool Science Fair. (Josiah C. Cuellar/The Dickinson Press)

Sarah Richens and Miki Thompson are the co-chairmen of the science fair and collectively organized the event and made sure that it ran smoothly. They said they are extremely grateful for the sponsors that contributed in all aspects of the fair. From prize donations and table cloth to the placing ribbons and banner. They are also thankful to West River Community Center for offering a great deal to rent out the gymnasium.

The event could not have been possible without the sponsors, who continue to promote and help education on the Western Edge. Sponsors included Trotter Construction, Inc.; Smart Computers & Consulting; The Thompson Family; The Vohs Family; Pizza Ranch; McDonald’s; Market Press Coffee Company.; Golden Apple Travel; and Sarah Vearrier Independent Consultant.

Families that are interested in homeschool opportunities for the following school year can visit the SWND Homeschoolers Facebook page, which has resources and contacts for the beginning homeschool parent and student.

Josiah C. Cuellar was born in San Angelo, Texas, a small rural community in the western part of the state known for its farming, ranching and beautiful Concho River. A Texas A&M San Antonio graduate specializing in multi-media reporting, Cuellar is an award winning photographer and reporter whose work focuses on community news and sports.
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