Northumberland High School students, Corrie Minor, James Baker and Abby Jennings won the 2020 National Beta Club’s Freshmen Problem Solvers championship.

A three-student team from Northumberland High School won the 2020 National Beta Club’s Freshmen Problem Solvers championship and have now received their trophy.

Covid-19 and the challenge of distant competing couldn’t stop James Baker, Abby Jennings and Corie Minor. The trio was supposed to travel to Fort Worth, Texas to attend the national convention, and although the event was virtual due to the pandemic, the competition carried on virtually.

Northumberland’s co-Beta sponsor Michelle Jennings explained that the students’ history as a team and their performance in the state competition helped pave the way for their success. 

The trio have been working together since sixth grade when they joined Future Problem Solving. In those competitions, children are given a problem scenario that could happen in the future and they come up with ways to  solve it. That’s what they were expecting when they went to the state competition, but it wasn’t like that, Jennings said.

There was a mixture of multiple choice and written answer questions and they were all about Beta—its founders, its pillars, its principles. In fact, this year’s theme was BETA As Far As You Can See. The kids didn’t know how they would be scored in this type of competition, but despite the unexpected format, they claimed second place in the state competition.

“And that was with three of them. Teams could have up to four students,” Jennings noted. 

The state competition equipped the three who were then freshmen to prepare for the nationals. With the pandemic underway, they had to do that preparation and compete while relying on phone calls and digital communication tools. 

At first the National Beta Club released the names of the schools that placed in the top ten. It was already exciting for Northumberland to find their problem-solving trio did that well. But later, when it was revealed that the students won, the Beta sponsors and students were blown away.

And they claimed that victory in a year where, in total across all competition categories, more students competed than in the past, said Beta sponsor Karen Baker. “Since the competitions were held virtually, students that normally wouldn’t have participated did because they weren’t held back by the travel costs,” she explained.

Furthermore, Northumberland’s Beta contestants weren’t limited to competing in their league. They were up against students from across the nation, including those from magnet schools and private schools. 

“We’re the underdog from a small rural county. We’re the single-A school. So it just makes it sweeter that they were able to do so well and be competitive for our little area,” said Jennings. “James, Abby, and Corrie, they’re national champs. That’s what they are.” 

Layla Johnson makes a mark at the nationals

Layla Johnson added to Northumberland’s banner year for Beta. After claiming the number one slot in the state for Division 1 Digital Art, she went to the national competition and her worked placed ninth.

Saying division one just indicates that she was in the category for ninth and tenth graders. Like the problem-solvers, she was competing against students from a full range of schools. Her entry combined digital artwork and blackout poetry. And “to have it place at the national level is huge,” said Jennings. “The level of talent—it’s breathtaking to see what these kids can do,” she added. 

“To do as well as they did, it shows these students have a strong understanding not only of Beta but also of the world around them,” Baker said.

“I really think it showcases we have a lot of talent and it showcases the level of talent. It’s also a reflection of Northumberland School System. They are extremely supportive and are really willing to invest in the kids and what’s best for them. They make sure we have what we need,” Baker added.