When teams from nine Bell and Harlan County middle schools begin their computations Saturday in the Pine Mountain Chapter of the Kentucky Society of Professional Engineers MATHCOUNTS competition, at least one eighth grader from Rosspoint Elementary School won’t be feeling the pressure he did last year.
Emerson Johnson placed first in 2015, winning a full four-year tuition scholarship to the University of Kentucky and an additional $500 scholarship. Kilian Ledford from Harlan Independent was second. Jared Lewis from Evarts was third. Ledford and Lewis won scholarships toward an education at Western Kentucky University.
“I am so happy I got that scholarship,” said Johnson Wednesday morning, reflecting on last year’s challenge and looking forward to this year’s competition to be held Saturday on the Middlesboro campus of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College. “My family won’t have a burden to get another kid through college.”
Johnson, the son of Brent and Paula Johnson, has a sister, Allison, currently attending SKCTC. He said he understands how important scholarships are to help meet the high cost of college.
“I am relieved I’m not under the pressure to win again,” he said. “I’m not feeling like I’m going to have a heart attack. That is what I felt like last year with all the suspense.”
Johnson said his advice for competitors is to remember “It is not that hard. Don’t feel pressure. Do your best and it won’t be that bad. It is like taking a test at the end of the year.”
He is a veteran at MATHCOUNTS, having won fourth place as a sixth grader.
He admits having mathematics as your favorite subject doesn’t hurt your chances of doing well.
“My favorite subject is math,” he said. “I always like working with numbers. I like learning new things and getting better at the things I do. My parents always told me that math skills are passed from generation to generation. I get a lot of it from my dad’s side of the family. My parents are good at math. They have always told me I get a lot of it from my uncle and my aunt.
He said his coach, John Simpson, does an excellent job preparing the RES team with practice sessions. “He is really good at it,” said Johnson.
Johnson notes that any experience he can get in math he will take it as he plans to become a software engineer and pursue a career. His hobby is gaming, adding he wants to learn how to code and make things.
“I’ve gotten pretty good at perception,” he said. I’ve also gotten pretty good at typing. I can type really fast.”
And he wants to remind everyone that the subject “Is what it is MATHCOUNTS.”
Simpson said working with the MATHCOUNTS team is a great experience for him as well. As he gets to work with the students to improve in math.
“Emerson is as gifted of a math student as anyone in the state in my opinion. Not just because he is naturally good with numbers and memorization, which he is very good at, but because he loves
Math and enjoys learning new strategies and concepts,” said Simpson. “Emerson works on his math practice outside of school even when it is not required and that is what puts him ahead of the game. I have enjoyed the three years that I have had him in MATHCOUNTS and I am hoping that he places high enough again this year to have the opportunity to compete at the state level because I feel he has the ability to do very well.”
Seven teams from Harlan County Schools will join one from each of Harlan Independent and Bell County school districts on Saturday to determine individual and team winners. An awards ceremony is held after the competition, which is normally concluded by around 1 p.m. Registration begins at 8 a.m. and the assessment begins at 9 a.m.
Corey Napier, a member of the KSPE local chapter, said UK and WKU will again award scholarships this year. Schools are allowed to bring up to 10 students to compete. Four can compete as a team, while all 10 can compete as individuals.
Napier said the competition is for sixth, seventh and eighth graders.
“MATHCOUNTS competition is designed to be completed in approximately three hours. Each competition consists of four parts: the Sprint, Target, Team and Countdown Rounds,” said Napier, a professional engineer for Vaughn and Melton Consulting Engineers Inc. “The Sprint Round has 30 questions, and students have 40 minutes to complete them. The Target Round consists of eight questions, which are distributed to the students two at a time. Students have six minutes to complete each pair of problems. The Team Round has 10 problems for the team to work together within the 20 minute time limit. The top 25 percent of individuals, up to a maximum of 10, proceed to the Countdown Round, an oral round in which students compete head-to-head.”
Napier explained MATHCOUNTS is a national math enrichment, coaching and competition program that promotes middle school mathematics achievement through grassroots involvement in every U.S. state and territory. MATHCOUNTS is one of the most successful education partnerships involving volunteers, educators and industry sponsors and students.
The organization’s mission statement is to increase enthusiasm for and enhance achievement in middle school mathematics throughout the United States, he said. It is supported primarily by the Kentucky Society of Professional Engineers, the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics and the CAN Foundation.
For more information about MATHCOUNTS, visit mathcounts.org.