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Behind The Scenes At The Great Computer Challenge

By Whitney Tripp

GCC logo

The Great Computer Challenge, in my opinion, is one of the greatest, most beneficial events WHRO puts on every year. This is the 26th year WHRO has organized the K-12 computer programming contest, with the help of the Consortium for Interactive Instruction and Old Dominion University, and it just keeps getting bigger! The Senior Great Computer Challenge, which is for students in grades 6 through 12, was held on March 5th at ODU’s Webb Center, with 117 teams of students competing in 11 different categories, including everything from web design to video editing.

My job at the GCC this year was to be a “monitor,” in the competition area with the students, observing their work, making sure they follow the contest rules, and generally working to keep the chaos to a minimum. At past Great Computer Challenge’s, I had manned the registration tables and decorated for the awards ceremony, but I can now tell you, being a monitor is where all the action happens…

Monitors arrive at the Webb Center before the teams of students are even allowed to check in, and are greeted with much needed coffee and danishes. We then head straight into a meeting for an overview of our responsibilities and to receive our room assignments. We must be in our assigned rooms before the students arrive and remain there throughout the competition to answer any questions students may have, but we’re not allowed to help them or even touch their computers. The students must know how to set up and operate all of their own equipment, and it’s our job to stand guard so their teachers and parents don’t come in the rooms to try to assist them.

I am assigned to the Cape Charles room, which is for middle and high school students competing in the desktop publishing category. Immediately, one very small, very cute sixth grader is having trouble getting his computer to turn on. While the other students have all set up their work stations and headed back downstairs for a rules review session, I call for his teacher, who sends up a student with a spare computer. The poor little boy is getting upset and can’t get his second computer to cooperate either. Luckily, his teacher has a third backup computer that he gets up and running just as the other students are coming back into our room.

Exactly 9:30 a.m. is the start time for the competition and I have one student from each team come up and receive their problem packets. I also have all students turn off their cell phones and set them out so I can see them. I am a little nervous asking a room full of teenagers to turn off the devices they seem to be glued to, but once I explain that we don’t want anyone to be accused of cheating, they quickly comply.

Since they are all in the desktop publishing category, the teams in my room are tasked with inventing a summer camp and designing all of the related logos, flyers, letters and business cards – a job that seems much too large for only a few short hours. But the teams rapidly get to work. It is both amazing and inspiring to see the kids working together so well, bouncing ideas off of each other, and whizzing around on keyboards to create masterpieces on their computer screens.

Some of the teams finish within the first hour, while others take the entire allotted amount of time to make every minute count. When I announce that there are ten minutes remaining, one of the last groups still working is having a hard time printing out their documents. I feel terrible for not being able to help, but a team of 8th grade girls from St. Gregory the Great School volunteers to let them use their printer – an offer I never expected seeing as how this team is their competition. I have everyone wrap up and exit so the judges can come in and review their hard work.

Great Computer Challenge - St Gregory
St Gregory's Desktop Publising team working hard on March 5, 2011

Later at the awards ceremony, I nominate the St. Gregory girls for a spirit award for being so kind toward a rival team. On top of the spirit award, they end up winning first place in the desktop publishing category, and I couldn’t be happier for them. I decide that my job was not only to monitor the chaos and confusion of the day, but I was also able to observe the talent and compassion of today’s students.

Great Computer Challenge Winner - St Gregory
St Gregory's Desktop Publishing team was awarded 1st Place!

If you’re interested in my job, the 2012 dates have been scheduled. Senior, grades 6-12, is scheduled for March 17, 2012 and the Junior, grades K-5, is scheduled for April 28, 2012. You can volunteer to be a monitor, a runner, or to help with registration simply by going to

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    The 2012 dates have been scheduled.
  • Senior (grades 6-12) - March 17, 2012
  • Junior (grades K-5) - April 28, 2012

    You can volunteer to be a monitor,
    a runner, or to help with registration simply by going to