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‘Battle of the Minds’: Students compete in LAUSD’s 43rd Decathlon

Kailee Bryant | March 26, 2024

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Parents, families and friends cheered as students competed in the 43rd Annual Decathlon in February.

The gym was silent as the next question was presented.

Each team gathered at their station, and each member focused intently, while spectators in the stands quietly whispered to themselves trying to decipher the answer. 

This was the scene at LA Unified’s annual Academic Decathlon held last month — where students spend countless hours training and hoping to succeed in the underestimated battle of the brains.  

It was the 43rd ‘Super Quiz,’ an opportunity for high school students to display their academic knowledge through rigorous team competitions. The theme of the contest this year was technology and humanity. 

LAUSD’s U.S. Academic Decathlon has a rich history, with teams representing the district in the competition since 1981. This time, nearly 700 students from 45 different schools gathered at Edward R. Roybal Learning Center to put their skills to the test. 

To include students of all levels, each Academic Decathlon team is divided into 3 divisions: Honors (As), Scholastics (Bs) and Variety (Cs). 

“Academic decathlon is probably one of the most amazing programs that we have within the district,” said Dr. Neena Agnihotri, LAUSD’s Beyond the Bell Academic Coordinator.

“Just like students participate in football, basketball, wrestling, the decathlon is the battle of the minds … there is academic progress and academic ability, but the teaching and learning that happens within each team is the most significant aspect.” 

The Decathlon provides students with an opportunity to strengthen academic achievement and foster teamwork. 

“As an avid reader and overall seeker for knowledge, I feel that the [Academic Decathlon] is perfect for me,” said high school junior Mariah Stradwer, co-captain of the Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnets Academic team. “There’s a lot of knowledge there … it helps you with your people-person skills, and overall just prepares you for the future with critical thinking skills and showing up for your team.”

Antonio Moore, a junior at Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnets, also said the program had been a big boost.

“The [Academic Decathlon] gives you a sense of balance. The way the program is set up gives you a mix of social, and educational and gives you new opportunities,” Moore said. “ … it challenges you, but it also adds for constant self-improvement.”

Students began studying for the competition during the summer and juggled the demands of  school course loads and academic scrimmages throughout the semester. 

“We have a very rigorous training system. Every single day, we’ll have about 10 to 12 pages of reading from the provided LAUSD packets,” said student Dwayne Famenia, co-captain of the Van Nuys High School Academic Decathlon team. “We will do a quiz on this at the end of the night then discuss it the next day in class … it is non-stop reading and non-stop studying.”

The accomplishment of the Academic Decathlon was not only celebrated by students, but coaches, administrators and parents.

“It’s so enriching to see how students are living their lives … and having different approaches to different subjects, and really understanding that people’s different strengths is a virtue for the whole team,” said Nicole Federici, a parent and volunteer interview judge at the decathlon. 

Following the ‘Super Quiz’ students are recognized with certificates, medals and scholarships. Chosen high schools will be invited to compete in the state academic decathlon in Santa Clara, California.  

LAUSD school board member for Board District 2 Rocio Rivas said she was “in awe” of the decathlon participants and the dedication they had for the competition. 

“It’s not about being in the classroom learning about math, it’s about what happens after to get that passion out of the student,” said Rivas. “Whether it’s sports, academics, or if it’s art, whatever it may be, all students need that extra passion and space to excel in the things that they love … and these students love to learn and love to take quizzes and tests.”

This article is part of a collaboration between The 74 and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

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