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CA Academic Decathlon champ — and a WW I whiz, as well

Aaron Stella | March 28, 2014

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El Camino Real Ca Decathlon State Winners 2014

The champs, including Melissa Cheng, second from left

LA Unified’s El Camino Real Charter won the 35th Annual California Academic Decathlon last week, locking in its 11th state title and a chance to claim a seventh national title at the U.S. Academic Decathlon in Honolulu, April 24-26.

Against a steep competition of 565 students from 65 high schools statewide, the nine-member team scored 57,747.3 points of a maximum 65,400, just ahead of the runner-up, Granada Hills Charter High School, another LAUSD entry, that placed second with 57,214.1 points.

LA School Report spoke with Melissa Cheng, one of El Camino Real’s team members, about the competition and her team’s preparation for the 10 quizes involving speech, interviews, essay, art, economics, language and literature, mathematics, music, social science and the Super Quiz.

LA School Report:  The topic for this year’s competition was World War I. What was the most challenging part of the competition for you?

Cheng: I actually found that I was really well prepared for it. I spend the entire year preparing for this, along with the rest of my team. The whole team was really well prepared. We went into it knowing exactly what we needed to do and to know. We felt confident in the knowledge that we had. So we just walked in there and tested.

LA School Report: What does your study regimen with your team look like?

Cheng: It’s a mix. We have a lot of individual time where we learn the material, try to memorize all that we can, but we also help each other: we make posters to help conceptualize some of the material; we’ll put together questions and we’ll quiz each.

LA School Report: While you said that the competition wasn’t particularly challenging, what are some parts of the competition material that you found interesting or intellectually stimulating?

Cheng: Our team really enjoyed the topic of WWI – happening in the early part of the 20th century – because the competition links all part of the topic together. For example, our topic was WWI, but we’re also learning about that era. We’re learning about art from the war, as well as the new modernist movement of art. Same thing in music. Same thing in science. So it was really interesting to see how all of these parts of the world were coming together at that time.

LA School Report: Any interesting facts you could share with us?

Cheng: For music, we have sections that talk about expressionist music, atonal music, and because of the influence of WWI, we have a lot of propaganda music. Blues and jazz were also coming into play during that time.

LA School Report: How about in art?

Cheng: There were the impressionists, the expressionists and lots of propaganda art from WWI. Art and music were really connected at the time.

LA School Report: Will the study topic be the same for the national competition, and, is this your first time going to nationals?

Cheng: The topic will be the same, and yes, this will be my first time going to nationals. It was also my first time going to state. The same goes for the rest of my team, actually. We’re all really excited.

LA School Report: Anything new or different you’ll be doing to prepare for the nationals, or is it just business as usual?

Cheng: We will be revisiting the information, and then try to find some new angles to increase our knowledge, try to pick up some new things we haven’t already seen.


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