High school students from throughout Kern County literally put their learning skills to the test on Saturday.
The county Academic Decathlon wrapped up its two-day run on Saturday after teams of students from schools throughout the county completed the final portion of the competition, the Super Quiz, at Mira Monte High School. The quiz tests students’ ability to answer questions within a 10- to 20-second time frame.
This year’s theme for the competition was Africa. Over the course of two days — Jan. 11 and Feb. 3 — students had to go through a gauntlet of challenges, including completing essays as well as giving interviews and speeches. Students had to discuss Africa as it relates to literature, mathematics, science and other categories.
“The decathlon is one of the most collegiate things students can do in high school,” said Don Wilmot, a longtime decathlon coach for Bakersfield High School. “It’s a really valuable learning opportunity for them.”
Many students said they got involved in the competition to learn some skills that could help them in college or a career, such as through studying, writing essays and doing interviews.
“The biggest challenge for me has been trying to fit in study time between school,” said Bakersfield High student Deztynah Jimenez. “It’s a good challenge to deal with because it helps me with time management. The decathlon helps me get more skills and helps develop those skills.”
Training for the decathlon is an intense, months-long process during which many students train together and separately for hours three or four days a week after school. Training includes reading, memorizing answers to questions, testing how quickly you can respond to questions and more.
Several students said the training has been the most difficult part of the experience.
“It’s been challenging memorizing so many different formulas for math,” said Madison Castro, a senior on the Stockdale High team, the winner of this year’s competition. “It’s worth it though. My study habits before were not so great, but because I had to train so much for this, it’s changed how I study for my normal classes. I’m studying differently now.”
Castro said participating in the marathon has given her more confidence that she hopes to carry with her as she pursues college and a career.
Victor Salomon, a student at Shafter High, said that besides developing better time management skills and study habits, the personal connection between the team members is also vital.
“I love the people been around with and getting to know them and learn with them,” he said. “Even though we’re all different, we can come together and be one as a team. You have to have a good relationship with the people in your team because if you don’t, you might not trust them with their answers, which could cause some serious problems.”
Jimenez said getting to work with her teammates has also been one of the highlights of the decathlon experience for her.
“It’s not just about academics,” she said. “You get to hang out with friends and do something together. You get to learn at the same time, which helps make learning fun.”
Wilmot said what he enjoys most about being a coach is seeing his students grow throughout the months-long process.
“Watching the kids grow — not just in knowing the material but how they interact with the material, how they learn how to learn — has been a pleasure,” he said. “I love seeing the kids go through that process and become more comfortable about how they’re going to tackle college.”
Wasco Union High School and Bakersfield High School won second and third place, respectively.
The Kern County Academic Decathlon is put on every year by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools.