Academic stars shine at decathlon

By From page B2 | January 28, 2013

What: Academic Decathlon Super Quiz

Who: El Dorado, Oak Ridge, Ponderosa and Union Mine high schools

Where: Union Mine High School, Theater at the Mine, 6530 Koki Lane in El Dorado

When: Saturday, Feb. 2, at 3 p.m.

Information: Susan Carney at [email protected] or 530-295-2216

For high school students and parents seeking competitive events outside of contact sports, there is a smart alternative.

The Academic Decathlon features a progressive scholastic contest which promotes learning and excellence through teamwork. From neighborhood to national, the school teams advance until they’re eliminated or crowned a winner.

In its 45th year, the event has grown from a somewhat limited beginning in Orange County to a revered national program involving all 50 states.

In El Dorado County El Dorado, Oak Ridge, Ponderosa and Union Mine high schools field teams composed of a starting line up of nine competitors and alternates.

A common misconception is that only A students are selected for the teams.

Not so, said Susan Carney, administrative assistant to Dr. Vicki L. Barber, Superintendent of the El Dorado County Office of Education.

“The most intriguing aspect of the Academic Decathlon is its democracy,” Carney said.

She points out that each nine-person squad is composed of three A students, three B students and three C students, not just the elite 4.0 scholars. These academic grade levels are known as Honor, Scholastic and Varsity.

“Honors students are the easiest to recruit,” she affirmed. “The most difficult group to attract is the C students.”

This might be because some haven’t developed the study skills and scholastic motivations of the A students.

“These kids bring native intelligence and great energy to the competition and seem to gain the most from participating. I’ve seen total turn-arounds in self-esteem and career planning,” Carney said.

Each county competition is based around a single subject. The topic for this year is “Russia.”

With an expected roster of 25 speech judges, 20 interview judges and a dozen speech timers and room coordinators, the event is meticulously managed and its outcome trusted.

The interview, speech and essay writing portion of the competition take place on Wednesday, Jan. 30 at Union Mine High School.

In the speech competition judges look for: speech development, effectiveness, correct grammar, pronunciation, voice, speech and value in the prepared speech. The impromptu speeches are judged on content, delivery and overall effectiveness.

The essay portion of the competition presents three topics to choose from. The topics are kept secret until the contestants sit down to write. The essay competition is proctored – no talking and no reference materials. Students have 50 minutes to write an essay with only a pen and paper.

For the interviews Rotarians and other community volunteers interview students, evaluating voice, language usage, non-verbal language, listening skills and overall effectiveness.

The rest of the 10 disciplines making up the Academic Decathlon are set for Saturday, Feb. 2 at Union Mine.

The final event in the scholarly competition is the Super Quiz and it is open to the public.

Last year the 2012 Super Quiz was followed by the awards ceremony which resembled a Who’s Who of county prominence including El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini, El Dorado County Supervisor Ray Nutting, Superior Court Judge Warren Stracener and other movers and shakers of education, justice, law and administration.

One hundred fifty volunteers are needed to properly conduct the Academic Decathlon experience.

Before the event, students scrimmage at intense study session, facing tough questions and enduring mock exams.

As the Saturday meet unfolds, each team member competes against other students (in the same grade division,) in these events: Art — Russian Art and Architecture; Economics — the economy of Communist and Post-Communist Russia; Language and Literature — Boris Pasternak and the National Epic; Mathematics — Overview of Permutations and Combinations, Algebra, and Statistics; Music — Russian Music; Science — Space Exploration; and Social Science — Russian History.

The last of the 10 disciplines is the Super Quiz, made up of questions from the previous tests.

Overall team scores are calculated using the top two individual scores from each grade division.

Winning students receive medals – gold, silver and bronze and the winning teams earn trophies. The winning team from El Dorado County will travel to the state tournament.

Teams who win respective state competitions go on to the national level.

Unlike some other school districts, local decathletes are unable to use classroom time to prepare, and must be resourceful with their schedules.

Terri Kessler, a teacher at Ponderosa High School, is that school’s decathlon coach.

“Without the benefit of special time grants these scholars pull double duty,” she said. “And look at what they can deliver.”

Ponderosa has captured the county championship for 20 consecutive years.

Funding for the El Dorado County Academic Decathlon comes from community sponsors and from the general fund of the El Dorado Union High School District. The El Dorado County Office of Education funds a coordinator and a part-time administrative assistant.

Businesses and organizations such as Minuteman Press in Placerville and Placerville Kiwanis provide critical help.

Barber praised the aid.

“Our county program has been successful for more than 25 years due, in part, to the efforts of over 150 volunteers serving in various capacities: speech and interview judges, testing proctors, computer programmer, registrar or master of ceremonies. Contributions of time or any dollar amount are also gratefully accepted,” Barber said.

The Super Quiz and awards ceremony will take place at Union Mine High School, Theater at the Mine, 6530 Koki Lane in El Dorado, on Saturday, Feb. 2, at 3 p.m.

The public can paint their faces, show off T-shirt messages and cheer during the Super Quiz portion. The decathletes know this competition may be their only shot at a national title of any kind, but unlike Super Bowl football warriors, they realize there’s a great victory in having even suited up.

Contact Susan Carney at [email protected] or 530-295-2216 to learn more about the El Dorado County Academic Decathlon.

Peter Tyner

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