News from the Aurora University community

John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School students named finalists in national Bright Schools Competition

Posted by on April 20, 2017

Eight middle school students who attend the John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School at Aurora University and their coach, Natalie Soelke, who teaches English and social studies at the school, have been named national finalists in the 2nd annual Bright Schools Competition.

The competition is a collaborative effort of the National Sleep Foundation and the National Science Teachers Association that encourages sixth- through eighth-grade students to explore the correlation between light and sleep and how it influences student health and performance. The eight students made up two teams of four members each. The teams were among 50 national finalist teams, chosen from 150 teams, made up of nearly 500 students from 53 schools. In early May, first-, second- and third-place national winning teams will be announced. The complete list of the national finalists can be found at

Some 200 third- through eighth-graders from four area school districts attend the STEM school, which emphasizes instruction in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Teachers are drawn from the four partner school districts — Batavia (101), East Aurora (131), Indian Prairie (204) and West Aurora (129) — and teach STEM students while simultaneously pursuing advanced studies.

The team of Anthony Baltazar (West Aurora), Niang Hau (West Aurora), Kailey Light (Batavia) and Alyssa Mejia (West Aurora), all eighth-graders, investigated the elements that go into creating the ideal sleep environment and how that environment affects circadian rhythms in teenagers.

“We found that there are certain criteria that should be met for a healthy sleep environment that do not cost a lot of money to create,” said the team. “For example, removing all electronics when sleeping, keeping the bedroom clean, dark and cool, and maintaining a muted, non-stimulating bedroom color scheme.”

Eighth-graders Sreeja Gadepalli (Indian Prairie), Jakob Mundt (Batavia), Sebastian Ramos (East Aurora) and Gabby Wagy (West Aurora) explored the effects of different color lights on sleep and melatonin production.

“Total darkness is best for sleeping, however green light is the least disruptive to circadian rhythms,” according to the team. “We created a poster to educate the community on the importance of avoiding blue light before bed, especially the use of phone, computer or TV just before bedtime.”

“The National Sleep Foundation would like to congratulate the finalists on their innovative projects. The Bright Schools Competition has shined a light on the importance of sleep and overall health, and we’re encouraged to see so many students interested in how light directly affects their sleep and academic performance” said David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation.

“The Bright Schools Competition is a celebration of the talent and ingenuity of our youth, providing students with a unique opportunity to think critically while exploring the connection between light and sleep,” said NSTA Executive Director David Evans. “Congratulations to all of the national finalists for their hard work, enthusiasm and imaginative ideas.”

Under the mentorship of an adult coach/teacher, teams of two to four students identify, investigate and research an issue related to light and sleep as it pertains to their community and/or young adolescents. Using scientific inquiry or engineering design concepts teams develop a prototype, create an awareness campaign, or write a research proposal for the competition. Each team then submits a written report detailing their project along with a three-minute video showcasing their investigation. Projects are evaluated on the basis of several criteria, including scientific accuracy, innovativeness and potential impact.

All students who enter the competition will receive a certificate of participation. Students on the first-place national winning team will each receive a cash prize of $5,000; second place students will receive $2,500; and third-place students will receive $1,500. The coach/teacher of the first place team will also receive a prize package, including Vernier Middle School Probeware, an all-expense paid trip to an NSTA conference, and membership to NSTA. The second-place coach/teacher will receive an all-expense paid trip to an NSTA conference and membership to NSTA, and the third-place coach/teacher will receive membership to NSTA and a $500 gift certificate to use in the NSTA Science Store.

More information about the competition is available at

About the National Sleep Foundation

The National Sleep Foundation is dedicated to improving health and well-being through sleep education and advocacy. Founded in 1990 by the leaders in sleep medicine, NSF is the trusted resource for sleep science, healthy sleep habits and sleep disorders to medical professionals, patients and the public. For more information, visit or Follow NSF on Facebook and Twitter.