A last-minute email resulted in an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for five Haut Gap Middle School students and their teacher.

Haut Gap sent 14 Science Club students earlier this month to the Carolina Middle School Science Bowl in Raleigh at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. The event was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The students were divided into three teams ,and one of the teams (Jasper Bishop, Ben Davey, EmmaLeigh Efird, Brandon GonzalezPerez and Sarah Hunter) placed first in the regional competition and will go to the nationals April 25-29.

Their science teacher, Melissa Core, said the opportunity came when she got an email in October about the competition. She quickly registered and created a Science Club where she and the students would stay after school every day to prepare. They also were preparing for a trebuchet competition at The Citadel.

“We weren’t just doing this. I dance. We have homework, and we have to keep our grades up. It takes a lot of time and effort and losing sleep. It’s tough to manage our time,” team member Sarah Hunter said.

Core said bowl coordinators were surprised when they heard they were traveling all the way from Charleston.

“It gives them an opportunity to share what they know, diversify themselves and see what’s out there. Some kids don’t see that. That’s why I wanted to give them this opportunity. There’s more to science than what’s in a book,” Core said.

The students studied bowl material by quizzing each other and going over questions that stumped them. And since the students are in different grades, some are learning things they have not covered in class and others are having to review. They rearranged desks in quiz bowl style and improvised by tapping glue sticks and markers for buzzers.

“We were just using what we had,” Core said with a laugh.

The team had school fundraisers to raise money for their trip but also received generous donations from the community. A member of Kiawah Cares donated $750 that the organization matched.

The competition day was a nine-hour whirlwind. Matches were held all over the museum, so they had to rush from room to room. Many of the teams were from private schools, and the returning champions were there. Some of the questions were college level and some that even Core, who majored in biology, did not understand. But the students persevered and created their own strategies during the eight-minute rounds.

“I was so excited just being there. They just blew me away. They didn’t get nervous,” Core said.

And when the team was announced as the winner, it took awhile for it to sink in.

“I was crying because they worked so hard,” Core said.

The students said they are preparing for the nationals by studying things they didn’t know at the regionals. They said the experience taught them how to work as a team, manage their time and that there are endless possibilities to science.

And while Core attributes the teams’ success to her students, the students would disagree.

“She (Core), like us, lost sleep. She drove us up there and organized this all by herself,” Sarah said. “She made all of this possible and we’re very thankful.”

Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or jmcduffie@postandcourier.com.