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JHS LifeSmarts team heading to nationals

The North Dakota State Champion LifeSmarts team will represent North Dakota at the LifeSmarts National Championships Friday through Monday, April 21-24, in Pittsburgh. Pictured, from left, are Cris Dupre, Julia Shirley, Kalen Christensen, captain Ligia Schulz and Courtnay Kiecker, with their state trophy. John M. Steiner / The Sun

For the eighth straight year Jamestown High School will represent North Dakota at the LifeSmarts National Championships.

JHS LifeSmarts Team No. 1 will travel to Pittsburgh to compete in the national competition from April 21-24. The team won the state LifeSmarts championship on Feb. 8 in Bismarck.

"We are very proud of their achievements," said Robert Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public School District.

JHS team captain Ligia Schulz, a senior with three years experience in LifeSmarts, will focus on environmental questions for her first trip to the nationals. She said preparation isn't that difficult when the information is useful and not just tacit knowledge and is designed to instill financial responsibility, internet safety, environmental stewardship and health and safety knowledge in students.

"It is things that you need to know out in the real world," Schulz said.

The team prepares by using practice questions on the LifeSmarts website, she said. The practice is conducted just like the real thing so it is intense and fun like the competitions.

"I really like the buzzer-style competition," Schulz said. "It really gets my adrenalin going."

Courtnay Kiecker, a junior in her second year of LifeSmarts and a member of the 2016 team that went to nationals in Denver, said this year's team is motivated from that experience.

"We know what the competition is like and we already have a starting point that we can branch off of," said Kiecker, who will focus on consumer rights and responsibilities questions.

Kalen Christensen, a junior and second-year LifeSmarts member, will focus on technology questions. Cris Dupre, a junior and second-year LifeSmarts member, will cover the health and safety questions.

Julia Shirley, a junior who will focus on personal finance questions at nationals, said the team gets a head start in points with LifeSmarts projects to enter the tournament in a higher position. Underwriter Laboratory is a major sponsor of LifeSmarts and provides the learning materials on the website along with projects that lead to points and scholarships. The JHS team made presentations on environmental stewardship and online safety and did a "food audit" for elementary school kids in Jamestown.

"We go to a school and we have them sort out their lunch waste and we see how much food is thrown away every day," Shirley said. "That is how you get points before actually competing."

In addition to accumulating points the presentations help with fundraising for the trip. The work in the elementary schools resulted in a $1,000 team scholarship to help pay for plane tickets, along with funds from a silent auction, candy sales and local business and service club sponsors, she said.

"They've worked hard," said Marchel Krieger, a JHS social studies teacher and LifeSmarts coach. "They are self-motivating."

The kids get really excited about playing the best teams and getting to know other students from around the country, he said. Many other teams are completely sponsored by the state or their school districts, he said.

Krieger said the freshmen students ask about LifeSmarts when they see all of the ribbons and trophies in his classroom. They get curious and start sitting in on practices with the upperclassmen.

"They like the idea that we have this streak going," Krieger said. "We haven't lost a state championship since 2010."

Parrell Grossman, assistant North Dakota attorney general and director of the consumer protection and antitrust division, is also the question master for the state LifeSmarts competition, which is co-sponsored and coordinated by the North Dakota Office of Attorney General.

The JHS students quickly answered questions in a rigorous competition that most adults would find difficult to answer, Grossman said.

"The quality and accuracy of their responses quickly established that these students were bright and well-prepared," Grossman said.