Ladybug experiment takes Sumner girls all the way to the White House

Advocates of STEM education say it’s about helping students understand and solve real-world problems.

Two Sumner High School students got a chance to demonstrate their practical scientific knowledge — and meet the president — when they were invited to the White House Science Fair in May.

Celine Patrick and Ashlee Tarro, who recently completed their sophomore year, started their agricultural science project during their freshman year as part of an FFA Agriscience Fair. Their exploration of natural ways to control aphids in the school greenhouse won them first place in the 2013 FFA competition, followed by the White House invitation.

Their project pitted ladybugs, which eat aphids, against a commercial biodegradable insecticidal soap made from potassium salts. The girls spent three weeks in the greenhouse, counting aphids and replenishing the ladybug supply.

They discovered ladybugs were most effective when confined by mesh netting that kept them close to the aphid-infected plants.

The White House Science Fair drew more than 100 students from across the country. The Sumner students had a chance to mingle with other kids and view their projects.

Ashlee was chosen from among the crowd to stand behind President Barack Obama as he delivered his remarks, which included the announcement of a new $35 million education department initiative aimed at training teachers in STEM fields.

Ashlee was in the first row on the risers behind the president.

“We didn’t have time to be nervous,” she said. “A guy announced, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.’ ”

Ashlee shook his hand.

“I was taking pictures,” said Celine, who was in the audience.

Neither girl describes herself as a classic science geek. But both say they plan to continue their studies in the subject.

Celine, who will be president of her school’s FFA chapter next year, is hoping to study animal science and horticulture.

Ashlee is interested in taking more agri-science as well.

“I like it, because you get to see how things work — not just imagine it,” she said.

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