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‘It’s my happy place’

Krystle Wagner • Apr 29, 2016 at 10:00 AM

Science Olympiad isn’t just an extracurricular activity for the Jaeger family. It’s a way of life.

As Grand Haven’s teams — from White Pines Intermediate School, Lakeshore Middle School and Grand Haven High School — make final preparations before Saturday’s state competition at Michigan State University, the Jaeger family took time to reflect on how Science Olympiad has played a major role in their lives.

As a new teacher who was looking for something to get involved in, Melissa Jaeger started coaching Science Olympiad during the 1993-94 school year. The Lakeshore Middle School teacher went on to coach S.O. for four years before taking two years off when she and her husband, George, started their family.

After missing Science Olympiad and the connection she had with the students, Melissa went back to coaching one event, and George also started coaching.

The couple both coached two events when Melissa became pregnant with their second child. Coincidentally, each time they added another event to coach, they also welcomed another child into their family. The pattern continued until the birth of their fourth child.

With parents active in the Science Olympiad game, the Jaeger children — Fritz, Kathryn, Sophia and Carl — grew up attending practices and competitions at state and national levels.

Sophia said some of her earliest memories involve sitting next to S.O. students, wearing goggles and watching their experiments.

“It looked so fun,” she said.

Sophia said that growing up, her mother’s classroom was a second home — but that’s not always a bad thing. She and her siblings had the chance to be with their parents and experience new things as part of the S.O. teams, Sophia said.

Without having her children at practice, Melissa said she would have felt guilty about being away from them for so long. Since her children seemed to enjoy tagging along, Melissa said it helped her balance her emotions.

These days, Melissa coaches two events for the Lakeshore team. George coaches two events for Lakeshore and one for the high school, in addition to coaching track.

Fritz, now a high school senior; Sophia, an eighth-grader; and Carl, who is in sixth grade, are now all active on Science Olympiad teams. Kathryn, a high school junior, is instead involved in musicals and drama productions.

Now that three of the four Jaeger children are on Science Olympiad teams, Melissa said it can be a little hectic with schedules and making sure they’re prepared. It also makes award ceremonies even more nerve-wracking, she said.

National competitions often fell on Sophia’s birthday. Instead of having friends over for a party, Sophia said she grew up having cake with Science Olympiad students who sang “happy birthday” and helped make her day special.

From a young age, Sophia said she learned Science Olympiad teams are a family. Although students compete in individual events, everyone is on the same team and cheering for each other, she said. 

To help ensure her children deserve a spot on the team, Melissa has someone else grade their Blue and Gold tests, which determine if they make the team.

When the Grand Haven S.O. team traveled to Florida for the national competition a few years ago, and they received 24th place, Melissa said that night clarified her thoughts about the program — while they can compete at the national level, the teams are inclusive for the first part of the season, and any student can participate.

Melissa said that for herself and George, Science Olympiad is about the opportunity they provide students, building relationships with them, and having the chance to watch “that spazzy little sixth-grader grow into a mature high school student.”

Looking back, Fritz said Science Olympiad played a role in what he wanted to pursue in the future. Growing up immersed in science helped inspire his interest in Earth sciences.

Although Carl said attending the practices and events growing up was fun, it also led to some “boring” times. That said, Carl acknowledges that he would be a different person without  those experiences.

Without Science Olympiad, Sophia said her life would be “weird.”

“It’s my happy place,” she said.

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