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Christine Frazier

As the Kern County superintendent of schools, one of the things I find most rewarding is seeing students learning about the world around them through the many scholastic events and competitions our office sponsors each year.

The social interaction of working in teams and the exhilaration of contending for their alma mater rivals that of an athletic competition. Ear-to-ear grins, high-fives, applause from spectators and some disappointment along the way are all part of the experience.

While not everyone receives an award, all students learn important life lessons that are a product of the competitive process. Life is full of disappointments. Many times we learn more and develop greater character when life does not go as planned.

Competition is demanding, but offers a rich and rewarding experience, regardless of ranking. Academic competitions are incredible motivators for students. They enhance creativity, build self-esteem, develop character and improve the knowledge of a given subject, all of which supplement the lessons students acquire from a classroom setting.

As educators, we are not only obligated to teach reading, writing and arithmetic, the subjects that fundamentally prepare students for success after they graduate high school. We are also obligated to promote real-world learning that prepares our students for life in general. Scholastic competition helps achieve both.

A College Board study reveals that participants in cocurricular activities often achieve higher SAT scores, suggesting that important reasoning abilities measured by tests like the SAT are developed both within and outside the walls of a classroom. Results show that such activities benefit minority and socio-economically disadvantaged students as much, or more, than economically advantaged students.

I took great pleasure in learning that Arvin High School recently placed second in the California We the People competition, which measures knowledge relating to the study of the U.S. Constitution. In turn, Arvin received a special invitation to participate in the national competition next month in Washington, D.C. What a tremendous experience for these students and educators, regardless of the outcome.

Meanwhile, after winning the regional Academic Decathlon competition last month, the team from Stockdale High School will represent Kern County in the state competition in Sacramento this weekend, while the team from Centennial High School moves on to the state Mock Trial tournament to be held March 22-24 in Riverside. Back home, next week marks the 25th annual Kern County Science Fair, where 650 young scientists will compete in nearly 50 categories for a chance to move on to the California State Fair.

At the beginning of March, some 150 fourth- through 12th-graders participated in the annual Kern County History Day, where they presented projects that explored the theme "Turning Points in History." I believe that because of their involvement in this event, these students are poised to go on to make history themselves. Some of them will make history in their families. Others will make an impact in our community, or in the state of California, or in the United States. Still others will make a difference in the world.

Before the curtain closes on the academic year this spring, thousands of students will have tested their knowledge and skills in the dozen-or-so language arts, history, government, mathematics, science and fine arts events based on state curriculum standards that the Kern County Superintendents of Schools office annually sponsors.

I commend the parents who encourage their youngsters to participate, and persuade others to follow their lead. As a community, we should be very proud of the teams and individuals who have, or will in the near future, go on to compete at the state and national levels. They will surely represent Kern County well and continue learning along their way. We should be equally proud of the countless students who had the courage to compete regardless of the outcome. I'm confident that these students are richer human beings because of their experience.

For more information about how your child can become involved in next year's academic events and competitions, call 636-4330.

Christine Lizardi Frazier is the Kern County superintendent of schools. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.