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Movie Star Teacher, Prized Pupils A Big Hit At International Science Competition

JERICHO, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A local teacher on Long Island has been producing science superstars for years and now their story is being told in a new documentary.

On Wednesday, CBS2's Cindy Hsu met Dr. Serena McCalla, a beloved science research teacher at Jericho High School. Kendra Zhang was one of her star students and said she sees Dr. McCalla as much more than a teacher.

"I think she's tough love, very tough love, like a mom who really wants the best for you," Zhang said.

They're both part of a new documentary called "Science Fair," which follows students from all over the world competing in what's been called the "Olympics of Science Fairs," where 1,700 students from nearly 80 countries compete.

The film goes behind the scenes with Dr. McCalla.

Dr. Serena McCalla
Dr. Serena McCalla (Photo: CBS2)

"I'm going to be so proud when one of my kids win the Nobel Prize, because they will. One of them will," Dr. McCalla said.

The film was made last year, when Dr. McCalla's students won seven Grand Awards, more than any other school in the world.

She told CBS2's Hsu the first time she saw the film was at Sundance, where it won the inaugural Audience Favorite award.

"I think it celebrates smart kids and it's cool to be smart," Dr. McCalla said.

Hsu talked to her students who are all getting ready for more science competitions, like Madhav Subramanian, who said he had no interest in science until he met Dr. McCalla.

"I had no goal when I came into this class," Subramanian said.

But after three years with her, he's now working on, "endothelial behavior during tumor angiogenesis," he said, referring to a complex term for fighting tumors.

Shruti Shekar said Dr. McCalla is very direct and if you're not working at your potential, she'll call you out.

"Because she does that it's so opening. You're like, 'Oh, I could do so much more,' and she points that out and that's amazing," Shekar said.

McCalla, who has been at Jericho High for 10 years, said her students are her kids and are all superstars.

And she was not joking when she said in the documentary one of her kids will win a Nobel Prize.

"I want to go. I hope they invite me," McCalla said with a laugh.

She said they'll be her kids for life.

Right now, the documentary is in theaters nationwide, but it will likely be on National Geographic next year.

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