Students from Holy Cross Prep Academy, Delran, stand with math contest winners St. Rose of Lima School of the Camden Diocese, following the May 1 competition. The Delran high school students put in about 20 hours of preparation time before the annual event, writing questions, proctoring and hosting more than 200 middle school students. Photo courtesy of Holy Cross
Students from Holy Cross Prep Academy, Delran, stand with math contest winners St. Rose of Lima School of the Camden Diocese, following the May 1 competition. The Delran high school students put in about 20 hours of preparation time before the annual event, writing questions, proctoring and hosting more than 200 middle school students. Photo courtesy of Holy Cross

By Christina Leslie | Correspondent

It’s not difficult to tally up the many reasons Holy Cross Prep Academy’s annual middle school mathematics competition benefits its competitors. Winners in the Delran high school’s May 1 competition, drawn from a number of parochial, public and private schools in the dioceses of Trenton and Camden, stood on both sides of the winner’s podium.

Frank Sgroi, adjunct teacher of mathematics at Holy Cross Prep Academy, noted that the contest began in 2006 as a way for Burlington County students to demonstrate their skills in a competitive yet collaborative way. Then a full-time teacher and mathematics department chairman in the Delran secondary school, Sgroi approached his advanced placement Calculus students and invited them to host such a competition.

“They were all very enthusiastic,” Sgroi recalled. “We invited about 25 schools, both parochial and public, from Burlington County, [and] had 90 students attend the first year.”

The competition’s success prompted a conversation with Dr. Margaret Boland, associate superintendent of Catholic schools, and invitations were extended to Trenton Diocese elementary schools, Burlington County middle schools and a few nearby Camden Diocese elementary schools.

Over the years, the contest has grown to now include more than 200 competitors hailing from 20 to 25 schools. This year, students from the Camden Diocese took home top individual and group honors; schools from the Diocese of Trenton who competed included St. Raphael and St. Gregory the Great Academy, both Hamilton.

As the grammar and middle school competitors hone their mathematics skills during the weeks prior to the competition, Sgroi’s students, too, toil tirelessly behind the scenes to prepare for the hundreds of math fans who will take part in the four phases of competition: an individual written segment, a group segment, a single-elimination lightning round and the final Jeopardy round, complete with projection monitor and buzzers.

“The students organize and run the entire competition under my guidance. It takes about 20 hours of planning and preparation to organize the competition,” Sgroi calculated. The list of responsibilities is long, he added, for those members of the Holy Cross Prep Academy honors and advanced placement calculus classes who participate.

Dress rehearsals and plans for extenuating circumstances such as tie-breakers are just the first step. Sgroi said, “All students stuff the invitation envelopes, prepare the competition booklet, print the individual award certificates, register the students, proofread the competition questions or write new ones, grade the competitors’ answers, run the computers, control sound and lighting, keep score and act as cafeteria monitors during dinner.”

Sgroi sees value in the competition for students on both sides of the equation, saying, “It takes many hours of hard work, but it is very rewarding to the organizers and competitors alike.”

Holy Cross students agreed.

Sofia Javier, a senior who had served as the competition’s hostess, noted, “I participated in the competition when I was in eighth grade, so it was cool seeing their other side of how the whole competition came together.”

Dominic Decker amassed a long list of plusses on the competition.

“The math competition not only helped us sharpen our mathematics skills, but also was was entertaining watching the younger students try to figure out the questions,” he said. “This competition challenges sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders to show off public speaking skills and math skills under pressure… As a former participant it was awesome to see the behind-the-scenes work of it all.”

Classmate Julia Dermondy saw another benefit – positive attention on the Delran high school. She said, “By participating, the students can discover their own mathematical strengths and weaknesses, as well as learn how to handle competition and overcome defeat. I think that the competition benefits both the middle school students and Holy Cross, since it gives the kids a glimpse into life at Holy Cross so that they can possibly consider attending for high school.”