After weeks of tough practices four students from local charter school Paragon Science Academy have qualified to compete in the state MATHCOUNTS competition this weekend.

Marty Rhey placed first in the Papago Chapter, Jordan Hines came in third, Ricky Hsu, 13th, and Rohil Hatalkar, 16th, all from Paragon Science Academy in Chandler. All four will now go on to the state competition this Saturday.

This week the students have been practicing every day.

"They are really working hard," said coach Begench Owezov, who teaches algebra at the school. "This spring break they started meeting at 9 a.m. Saturday through Tuesday until 6 p.m. Wednesday they will practice from 9 a.m. to noon and then meet again Friday evening to go to Tucson for the state competition."

MATHCOUNTS is a competition for middle school students only. It consists of four parts. A sprint round, which has 30 questions in 40 minutes; target round, which has eight questions in 24 minutes; team round, which has 10 questions in 20 minutes and is done in a team; and the countdown round, which is a race. Calculators are only used in the target and team rounds.

"I used to feel really nervous, but now I feel really comfortable," said Hines, 13, who is competing for her second year. "I kind of forget about everything else and just think ‘I'm solving this math problem, I'm solving this math problem.'"

Sonoran Schools, which owns Paragon Science Academy, are public charter schools. Each of their students take a placement test at the beginning of the year to decide which math class they will go into, rather than depending on grade level. Team competitions like MATHCOUNTS are encouraged to further challenge the students.

Rhey, who is competing for the third time, says the competition has helped him get much better at math.

"I think if you want to be challenged at all in math then you should do this competition," Rhey, 14, said. "Even if you don't do good, it still helps you learn a lot about math."

Each of the students on the Paragon team said math is something they really enjoy.

"I like math," Hsu, 12, said. "It's my best subject in school. Math requires more thinking and a lot more focus. It's really complicated."

The kids have been practicing for months. They study three times a week during school and twice a week for three hours after school. It's a lot of dedication for a middle school student but the kids enjoy being together and having fun.

"It's a pretty strong team," said Hatalkar, 12. "Me and Ricky are new to this. We both skipped algebra so we have to learn a little. Marty and Jordan are great and helpful because they know what they're doing. We can ask them questions and they'll answer it. Mr. Begench is a lot of help and he dedicates his time and so do the other two teachers."

As a team the Paragon students feel confident about their chances. As they practice a reminder is written on the board.

"At the top of the chart you see GE," Owezov said. "That's our motto, great expectations. That's our goal."

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