Bringing medals home: WHS Academic Decathlon team wins awards at state
WORTHINGTON -- The small but intellectually curious Worthington High School (WHS) Academic Decathlon team returned from state competition in Chaska weighted down with medals -- a fair reward for having taxed their brains to the max.
WORTHINGTON - The small but intellectually curious Worthington High School (WHS) Academic Decathlon team returned from state competition in Chaska weighted down with medals - a fair reward for having taxed their brains to the max.
“Academic Decathlon (AD) allows students to test themselves and their intelligence, and helps them build on their knowledge bases,” said Jodi Hansen, the WHS AD coach.
On Feb. 22 and 23, seven WHS students - four seniors and three freshmen - competed against students with comparable grade point averages (GPAs) from the six other AD teams currently operating in Minnesota.
AD demands that participants compete in seven different study areas - literature, economics, art, social studies, math, science and music - with three additional requirements at the state level: a written essay, a three and a half minute prepared speech and a two-minute impromptu speech.
“The curriculum is put together by the U.S. Academic Decathlon Association, with varied annual themes,” noted Hansen. “Last year’s theme was World War I, and this year it was ‘Energy and Alternative Energy Sources.’”
The 2014-15 school year marked the second year of the program’s renewal at WHS.
“I’d told the students in my Advanced Placement chemistry class about it last year, and they all were interested in doing it,” said Hansen, noting that a few of the team members were 2014 graduates but incoming freshmen added to the ranks this season.
The WHS students attempted to master the rigorous AD curriculum during after-school and weekend practices.
A unique aspect of AD is its sorting of competitors according to GPAs. For instance, students with GPAs of 3.75 or higher compete in the Honors division; those with GPAs of 3.0-3.75 compete in the Scholastic division; and students with GPAs at or below 3.0 are in the Varsity division.
“That is a cool thing about AD,” said Hansen. “It gives the kids who maybe aren’t super compliant students, who maybe don’t do or turn in all their homework, a chance to shine.
“Grades don’t always show everything kids know, and that breakdown evens out the playing field a little.”
The WHS AD team participated in four “virtual” weekend scrimmages prior to the state meet. That meant four weekend days spent taking half-hour tests in each of the seven primary subject areas - a total of three and a half hours of testing per scrimmage.
“How many kids like to take tests for over three hours just for fun?” queried Hansen.
At least seven did this year, and their motivation and love of learning propelled them to a successful outcome at the state level.
Senior Ivan Parga, a varsity level competitor, earned five individual medals, placing first in economics, literature, math and essay, as well as second in music - enough to net him a third place overall finish in his category.
“The tests are difficult,” Parga acknowledged, “but I really like learning the content. Last year I learned so much about World War I, and this year about energy, and it’s all information I would never have looked up on my own.
“There are other kids like me (in the varsity level) who aren’t exactly rocking their grades but are still pretty smart.”
Hansen confirmed that Parga’s success in AD began during the 2014 season.
“Last year, Ivan got the highest score in ‘interview’ at state, against more than 45 other students,” Hansen declared. “He blew the roof off it; I mean, he was wearing so many medals at the end he could barely walk.”
Other individuals bringing home hardware from the 2015 state meet included freshman Max Langerud, who finished third in the Honors division and third overall for his speech on inertia; freshman Sarai Suarez, second in Varsity in speech; senior Nick Demuth, third in Honors division art; and senior Orissa Nitibhon, second in Honors division math and second overall for math, plus third in Honors division for music.
Additional 2014-15 AD teammates were senior Katelyn Middagh and freshmen Lyndsey Schock and Dale Hansen.
“It’s very interesting to see how we stack up against other kids in the state,” said Nitibhon, who made the trip to Chaska only a few days before he and Demuth performed lead roles in the WHS musical “Anything Goes.”
“I’d been involved in Math Masters during fifth and sixth grade and wondered why there weren’t similar competitions for high-schoolers,” Nitibhon continued.
“I like the chance to be challenged intellectually and academically, and I like the whole idea of the Academic Decathlon.”
Nitibhon, who plans to attend Gustavus Adolphus College next year and study pre-dentistry, identified four qualities students drawn to AD tend to possess: a dedication to studying, competitiveness, ambition and a love for learning.
“Academic Decathlon stretched me beyond what I learned in the classroom, because there’s a lot of material thrown at you,” Nitibhon attested.
“If you want to be successful in AD, you have to have that strong desire to learn.”
Coach Hansen is hoping more students with that desire will find their way to AD at WHS next year, because she has seen how much those involved benefit from the discipline and knowledge AD fosters in them.
“It’s so enjoyable to see kids grow and learn, and to find the hidden treasures both they and I might not even have known were there,” said Hansen.
“In AD, they get to compete with others at their level and show what they know, and what they’re capable of learning,” she continued.
“I believe with all my heart that every kid is gifted - you just have to find out how. AD is one way to give kids a chance to shine.”