First published in the March 19 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
They don’t lack for confidence, and they have chemistry to boot.
As they ready themselves for the parochial school national contest next week, members of the Incarnation Parish School academic decathlon team emphasized that they trusted each other to show up for practice — and the competition — prepared. The team earned a berth in the junior high national championship after winning the San Fernando Pastoral Region competition earlier this month.
The 20 members of the team — 10 main competitors and 10 alternates — vary in grade level but, to hear them say it, are united by their various academic interests and collaborative spirit.
“Everyone this year is so close, and that helps with team chemistry. We trust each other a lot more,” explained Christiane Serenal, an 8th grader on the team. “I feel like everyone trusting each other and being closer with each other helps us win.”
For this level of academic decathlons, competing students work as teams on the 20-question logic quiz and also the 50-question “super quiz,” which poses multiple-choice questions covering five academic areas. Individual competitive events test students on their knowledge of Catholic doctrine, English, literature, science, math, current events, social studies and fine arts.
Answers are not taken for whichever team raises a hand first — rather, the nature of crediting everyone at once for their answers fosters the more thoughtful spirit among the youngsters.
In prior parts of the COVID-19 pandemic, teams competed virtually and isolated from each other, simply working via Zoom as though they were in class and not, say, an auditorium sharing a table with their teammates and sharing the energy with their peer decathletes. Now, teams are back at those tables, with a viewing audience.
“When you’re online, there’s not the pressure of people watching you,” said Megan Torres, a 7th grader. “It’s like you’re just taking a test at home.”
While many of the students on the team have worked together for a few years, 8th grader Aryan Khatao only joined this school year and said he has enjoyed the experience with his peers and younger schoolmates.
“It really interested me,” Khatao said of the team. “It’s definitely a bonding experience, because you’re not just working on a team with your classmates, but with the younger grades as well.”
J.D. Derr, the academic decathlon team’s coach and also a history and religion teacher at Incarnation, lauded the maturity of his team and said he is able to be fairly hands-off in guiding them. What has impressed him this year especially, he added, is that the more experienced students have been able to help bring the newer ones up to speed.
Derr also credited Incarnation’s teaching prowess for consistently producing an academic decathlon team of competitive students.
“I think there’s a relatively vigorous curriculum here that leads our kids to read and perform above grade level,” he said.
For the team, until the pivotal contest on Saturday, March 26, it is practice, practice, practice for them. At least one student opined that those were the best part about being on the team.
“The practices are really fun,” Serenal said. “Instead of there being pressure on you, everyone was so nice and fun.”