Student Features

Madison Stokes Earns STEM Award at NAACP Academic Olympics for High Schoolers

Sep 15, 2021

Madison Portrait

PA Cyber senior Madison Stokes, 17, competed in the NAACP ACT-SO national competition last July and took home a bronze medal in the STEM: Medicine and Health category for her science project titled “The Effect of Sleep on a Student’s GPA.” ACT-SO stands for Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological, and Scientific Olympics and aims to recognize excellence in future leaders. High schoolers compete against each other across 32 categories at this event.

“Winning at the national level was a wonderful experience, however, even more thrilling was seeing other young people who are driven, focused, and achieving their goals,” says Madison.

She initially earned a gold medal in the same STEM category at the regionals event in Harrisburg, which was her ticket to the national competition. This was her third year competing in ACT-SO, and she has advanced to nationals each time. This year, her hard work and persistence paid off, and she took home a national award.

The ACT-SO program begins in August every year and runs through July when the national competition and ceremonies are held in conjunction with the NAACP National Convention. Though the last two national competitions were virtual, she was able to travel as a freshman to nationals in Detroit, Michigan.

Madison has thrived in the STEM: Medicine and Health category at ACT-SO. She has always been interested in science and is targeting a career in neuropsychology. She attended a STEM school in Harrisburg before enrolling at PA Cyber in 2020 for her junior year. “I love that I am able to ask a scientific question and figure out an answer using quantitative and qualitative data,” she says. “I am able to further my passion for science by taking classes at PA Cyber that in the future will help me succeed in my career.”

ACT-SO allows participants to compete in up to three categories, so Madison has tried her hand at sculpture, photography, and modern dance. As a ninth grader at nationals, she had the opportunity to work with celebrity choreographer Anthony Burrell to prepare a dance production in just a couple of days, staying up until 3 a.m. to get the job done.

Diving into Research

For her winning ACT-SO project, Madison surveyed PA Cyber high school students about their sleep habits and grades. Principal Dr. Jay Barris helped email the survey to students, and within 30 minutes she received more than 100 responses. She says she is thankful for the support and quick responses she received.

Dr. Barris says, “Madison had the uncanny ability of engaging our student body in survey research, in part due to her active participation in many club leadership roles. The students’ response to her survey is a testament to her ability to form lasting and impactful relationships with PA Cyber students and stakeholders.”

She got busy analyzing the data and creating graphs and contingency tables. She also reviewed quotes from students. She presented her report to judges at both the regional and national competitions.

“I came to the conclusion that high schoolers are not getting the recommended amount of sleep but still have high GPAs,” says Madison. “A lot of students said they were willing to stay up later to finish schoolwork to get the higher GPA, but many also said they had disorders that affected their grades or sleep.”

“One thing I like about science projects is I can ask a question and find out an answer. It’s not necessarily easy to find the answer, but I can eventually get to it.”

Graph of sleep hours

Leaning on Others for Support

ACT-SO gives participants the opportunity to work alongside a mentor for their projects. Madison was paired with Brittney Jarvis, a college student who helped review her report on students’ sleep. “The mentoring program gave me a boost, not only in my work but it also exposed me to people in the STEM field.”

Madison has other mentors as well. Mr. Sterling, a former food scientist for The Hershey Company, has been mentoring her on all her high school science projects. She has also received advice on presenting scientific information from Dr. Chelsea Doub, a consultant who focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion. “I am very thankful for the guidance and professional advice they have given me. These relationships have been invaluable to my growth and development.”

“There was a community of people who helped me. I’m sharing this award with my family, the teachers at PA Cyber, and all my mentors.”

As she enters her senior year at PA Cyber, Madison is excited about meeting new classmates and teachers, doing community service, and participating in several clubs. She’ll be president of DECA (an entrepreneurship club), technology officer of Student Council, and a member of the Youth Ambassadors Club and the National Honors Society. Plus, her younger sister Olivia is following in her footsteps—she entered first year at PA Cyber. “She saw me interacting in my classes with my teachers and classmates, the administration, and the clubs I have been involved in, and she decided to transfer. She’s going to have an amazing time,” she says.

And, of course, Madison is looking forward to competing in the Medicine and Health category again next year at ACT-SO. “This year being in 11th grade and finally winning puts it all in perspective. In ninth grade I was a rookie, in tenth grade I was getting more acclimated to the competition, and now winning this year I can see that I’m always improving. I’m always growing and thinking about how I can take it a step further.”

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About PA Cyber

Serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber) is one of the largest, most experienced, and most successful online public schools in the nation. PA Cyber's online learning environments, personalized instruction methods, and choices of curricula connect Pennsylvania students and their families with state-certified and highly-qualified teachers and rich academic content that is aligned to state standards. Founded in 2000, PA Cyber is headquartered in Midland (Beaver County) and maintains a network of support offices throughout the state. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment by any school-age child residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and does not charge tuition to students or families.