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Chester County Press

Two UHS students among top 300 scholars in the 2024 Regeneron Science Talent Search

03/13/2024 02:09PM ● By Steven Hoffman

The Unionville-Chadds Ford school community had plenty of reasons to feel proud as the February meeting of the school board unfolded—the district honored two high school students for impressive academic achievements and celebrated four longtime employees who are retiring. But, during the meeting, district officials also heard from several parents and students who are concerned about proposed changes to the middle school’s Academically Talented and Gifted Program offerings.

During superintendent Dr. John Sanville’s report to the school board, a spotlight was shined on Lilly Zhang and Arjun Praphulla Suryawanshi, two Unionville High School students who were selected by the Society for Science for inclusion among the top 300 scholars in the 2024 Regeneron Science Talent Search.

Sanville explained that Suryawanshi and Zhang were among thousands of students who submitted original scientific research in the Regeneron Science Talent Search. The scholars were chosen based on their exceptional research skills, commitment to academics, innovative thinking and promise as scientists.

Sanville explained the work of the two Unionville High School students. Suryawanshi, a senior, titled his winning project: ArmLev — A Low-Cost, Wearable and Dual-Mechanism Arm-Stabilizing Device Aimed To Mitigate Tremors.

Zhang, also a senior, titled her winning project Urban Heat Island Mitigation With Aerogel Composites. It presents a solution to the Urban Heat Island effect. 

Sanville noted with pride that it is very rare for one high school to have more than one student earn a Regeneron Science Talent Search selection. Submissions for this honor came from students from across the U.S. and from students in other countries, and Unionville High School was one of just 49 schools in the U.S. to have two or more students receive the honor this year.

“We could not be more proud to call you UHS students,” the superintendent said.

Suryawanshi and Zhang will each receive $2,000 for the honor. In addition, Unionville High School will receive $4,000 for STEM-related activities. 

Another highlight of the meeting came when district officials recognized the contributions of four people who are retiring this school year—an art teacher, a custodian, a librarian, and a paraprofessional. School administrators, school board members who have had children in the school district, and even some students took turns sharing glowing tributes to each of the retiring district employees.

The retirees are Ann Ferron, a Patton Middle School art teacher; Brett Culberson, a Patton Middle School custodian; Eva Thomas, Pocopson Elementary School librarian; and Lori Towber, a Patton Middle School Paraprofessional. Those four, while performing very different duties, all made the school district a better place for students during their combined 109 years of experience.

“We appreciate everything you’ve done,” Sanville said. “You’ve made a difference. You’re leaving us, but you’re leaving us better.”

Later in the meeting, several parents and a few students expressed concerns about a proposal to reduce the number of Academically Talented courses available to students in the middle school. Of specific concern for the parents who spoke is the possible loss of Academically Talented courses in English and Literature. Twenty-seven families signed a letter outlining their concerns, and then was sent to district officials. 

The parents pointed out that students in the Gifted Program need to be challenged, and they need the individualized classroom experience of being taught by Gifted Program teachers—extra coursework in a less rigorous class would not be a substitution.

District officials thanked the parents and students for sharing their opinions, and they promised that there would be more discussion about the issue.

Also at the meeting, the school board signed off on some contracts connected to the school district’s Centennial Celebration that is taking place this school year. The culminating event in the celebration is the Centennial Gala at the Longwood Gardens Conservatory on Saturday, April 13. Each of these contracts will be funded in full by the ticket prices and contributions.