Valley Community School might be an underdog team going into Saturday’s (Feb. 3) Merced County Academic Decathlon but don’t bother telling them.
To Carrie Harkreader, principal of the continuation high school, she sees the students as “winners in my eyes.”
One of the team members, Adrián Michalec, 16, said being part of the Academic Decathlon has allowed him to “learn new things.”
While for Javier Ceja, a 16-year-old junior, said “it feels good.”
Ceja said he agreed to be part of the team when he was asked to take part of the extra curriculum activity at school.
“I find it interesting to participate,” said Ceja, one of the school’s nine decathletes.
For both, Michalec and Ceja, it would be the first time they participate in the Academic Decathlon event.
Valley Community will be among hundreds of schools throughout the state that will compete at the county level for a chance to gain entry to the state Academic Decathlon in March.
Valley Community instructor Jerry Ray, who has been coaching the school’s academic decathlon team for at least six years, said that he tells the team that “one of the biggest things they are going to get out of this is the fact they are competing against comprehensive high schools and going toe-to-toe with them on those testing, and actually seeing how well they do against that.”
Ray said that because time is running short before the Merced County competition at UC Merced, the team is meeting as much as possible to get ready for the competition either as a group or one-on-one to go over the material. This year the topic for the scholastic competition is Africa.
The competition provides opportunities for students to experience the challenges of rigorous team and individual academic competition. Each student competes in 10 events: art, economics, essay, interview, literature, mathematics, music, science, social science, and speech.
For Michalec, one of the most challenging parts of getting ready for the Academic Decathlon event is working on “speech and taking in all the information.”
Michalec will be talking about steroid use in sports as his topic for the speech competition.
Ray said he tells students to pick a topic that they are interesting which would make it easier to learn and deliver the material.
Ray said he is working with Michalec, editing his speech and cleaning it up so he can start practicing and memorizing it for the competition.
“I am going to take on the challenge,” said Michalec of giving a speech in front of strangers.
Ceja said talking in front of people is not intimidating.
“I have done it a lot of times. I know how it feels, you got to focus on what you got to talk about and you got to be engage,” Ceja said, adding he likes being part of the group.
The culmination of the Academic Decathlon competition is the Super Quiz where students answers questions from seven different subject areas: art, economics, literature, mathematics, music, science, and social science. The Super Quiz is the only part of the competition that is open to the public.
The Merced County’s winner will represent the county at the California Academic Decathlon State Finals, on March 23–24, in Sacramento. The state champion will then compete at the national finals on April 19–21, in Frisco, TX.
When asked what were some of the rewards of being the team’s coach, Ray said “is watching these guys thrive in a competition, when they are competing against either other alternative schools or regular schools. Because there are kids on those teams that are 4.0 GPA students and these guys a lot of people write them off because they go to an alternative ed school.”
“They go and compete and do very well,” Ray said of his students. “These guys are wicked smart.”
Harkreader said since the students at Valley Community School come from different high schools in the county, many of those students who are in the school’s the academic decathlon team wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be part of the same team at t heir at their former schools campuses.
“At the end of the day, three of our students would get scholarships and they would have an amazing day of teamwork, competition, and they would have memories that would last them throughout their lives,” Harkreader said, adding that she had students using their scholarships to go to college.
Harkreader said the students “know they are supported, they are loved, and it doesn’t matter of how we do, we want them to cherish this opportunity they have to be part of the team.”
“You just got to be confident,” Ceja said.
Harkreader agreed, “it’s 100 percent confidence and you go and give your best.”
She said it’s really important for her school to participate in the academic decathlon because “our students wouldn’t get this chance to participate in their traditional school setting.”
Academic Decathlon in the Valley on Feb. 3
Stanislaus County: Ceres High School gym, super quiz at 1:20 p.m.
Merced County: UC Merced’s gym, super quiz at 3 p.m.
Tulare County: Tulare County Office of Education, super quiz at 2 p.m.
Madera County: Madera South High School gym, super quiz at 3 p.m.
Fresno County: Central East High School gym, super quiz at 3 p.m.
San Joaquín County: Lathrop High School gym, super quiz at 2 p.m.
Kings County: Hanford High School presentation center, super quiz at 2:30 p.m.
*The Super Quiz is the only part of the competition that is open to the public.