Academic Decathlon stretches students knowledge horizons

Individuals with the highest scores were given honors and recognition Feb. 11 during the 2014-2015 Imperial County Academic Decathlon at the Imperial County Office of Education in El Centro. FROM LEFT: Apolonia Gardner, then 17, Imperial High School, first place; Jonathan Phillips, then 16, Southwest High School, second place; and Natalie Iribe, then 17, Central Union High School, third place.

While a champion will be crowned on the gridiron this month, four local high schools have hopes of being crowned on a totally different playing field — the academic playing field.

The Academic Decathlon is underway.

Southwest, Central Union, Imperial and Brawley Union High schools are all vying for the top spot in the county, which would land them in the state championship this March in Sacramento.

“Each year, this is a great opportunity for schools to encourage, acknowledge and reward academic excellence by preparing and motivating high school students to achieve at a significantly advanced level through highly competitive, cross-disciplined scholastic events,” said Imperial County Office of Education Senior Curriculum Director Dorene Johnson.

Academic Decathlon teams are comprised of nine members. Each of the nine students must fall within one of three categories that each contains a maximum of three spots: students with a 3.75 GPA or higher (Honor), students with a GPA between 3.0-3.74 (Scholastic) and students with a GPA of 2.99 or below (Varsity).

A team’s final score is based on six scores, the top two scores from each of the three categories.

Decathletes are tested in art, music, math, language arts, science and the social sciences.

“The teachers and students spend an incredible amount of time studying and preparing for this event. I am amazed at the dedication of all who participate. We are in the Academic Decathlon season as we speak. The students have already competed in an essay competition,” said ICOE Coordinator for Curriculum and Instruction Tracy Canalez.

During the essay competition students were given three topics from which to choose from. Brawley senior Angela Espinosa said that she chose the literature topic of “How is the setting like a character in the story?”

“We had to write a good essay in a really short time. I am confident that my skills as a writer were enough to provide a proficient essay,” said Espinosa.

Students were given a literature packet and the novel “Nector in a Sieve” in preparation for the essay.

Espinosa is part of a Brawley team that is fielding a squad for the first time.

“It’s been really rewarding because it has allowed me to expand my knowledge and to learn as an individual and as a part of a team,” said Espinosa who is part of the Scholastic category. “In the long run I think it’s helping me prepare for my future.”

AP world history teacher Daniel Hernandez stepped up to coach Espinosa and the rest of the Brawley team. Hernandez said that it has been interesting working with students in a different capacity and that he hopes that his kids can reap some long-term benefits through this experience.

“Overall I am really excited and hoping that the kids do well at the competition, more than anything that they gain positive experiences that they can build on and use as they continue their education somewhere else (after high school),” said Hernandez.

With the season winding down, Hernandez is trying to get in as many quality practices as possible.

“We are looking at India from a cross-curricular standpoint. We are practicing, and honing, and enhancing their speaking and writing skills,” said Hernandez about his practices.

While Brawley is new to the game, Central is not.

“This is my third year working with Academic Decathlon. For the last two years I had a co-coach, but this year I am trying it on my own,” said Central coach Elizabeth Fifer. “My team is a great hodgepodge of students. I have students in ASB, the Sparteens, a Sheriff Explorer and numerous students in AP and other service clubs at our school. We have dwindled down to seven dedicated students.”

Fifer, who has been a teacher for 24 years, said that the students interested in joining the team start by reading a novel during the summer. Fifer said that her team starts the school year practicing once a week and then increase their practices up to three times a week during the season including some Saturday sessions.

She said that her team even met a few times during the holiday breaks.

“Academic Decathlon does show you who is dedicated. It is not for the faint of heart, but it really does prepare our students for the “college life.” I am lucky at Central to have administration and other teachers who will help out when I need content area-specific help,” said Fifer.

Central has been one of the dominant teams in Acadec, but lately it’s been Southwest who has proved to be the dominant team winning each of the last two years.

The Eagle squad has several returning members including senior Kevin Jeon who has enjoyed the challenges of Acadec and the opportunity to meet new people.

“It’s one of those things were you get to learn about things that you generally don’t get in the classroom,” said Jeon. “I did enjoy the experience and learning all these things.”

Jeon said that you have to make time to study for Acadec on top of all your classes. He feels that this experience will be similar to college life.

Junior Elim Poon said that he feels that his study skills have been further developed and that he is learning how to manage his time better.

“It’s an interesting competition because you learn about these wide and broad topics. Some parts relate to what you learn in school. You (end up using) Acadec knowledge for school and school knowledge for Acadec,” said Poon.

Poon said that he is thankful to all his teachers and especially his coach Joyce Sullivan for preparing him for this competition.

Sullivan, who teaches math, has coached the team for three years now and said, “Staying champions (is harder) than trying to be the champions.”

Overall the Eagles carry eight seniors on the team.

While all the teams have completed the essay portion of Acadec, the competition is far from over.

“Students will also compete in a speech and interview contest on Feb. 4 and an Arena Quiz and Super Quiz on Feb. 6. The theme this year is India, and the amount of studying the students do about the theme is incredible,” said Canalez who is coordinating the event through ICOE.

The speech contest includes two different components.

“We are polishing our prepared speech which is supposed to be between 3 1/2 and 4 minutes. We are also practicing our impromptu speech in which they give you a topic and you have one minute to brain storm and prepare your speech,” said Espinosa about the speeches she will have to deliver on Feb. 4.

The competition, locally, will culminate with the Super Quiz and Arena Quiz on Feb. 6. The Arena Quiz will be before a live audience. The event will be held at Imperial Valley College in room 3203 starting at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 6.

Results of the essay competition and future competitions will be revealed during an awards ceremony after the entire decathlon is completed.

Albert Padilla, Staff Writer
Imperial Valley Press

Added on Thursday, February 11, 2016 - 15:45