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Letter to the Editor: Cutting Academic Decathlon Would Be Devastating

A Franklin student talks about how the program changed his academic path for the better.

This letter was submitted by Franklin High School junior and Academic Decathlon participant Alex Moreno.

Hello, my name is Alex Moreno and I’m currently a junior (soon-to-be senior) at . This past year, I participated in a competition called Academic Decathlon, and I plan on coming back next year. But there’s a problem: with all of California’s budget troubles, there’s a chance that LAUSD , which potentially means no competition for Franklin next year.

First, let me talk about my own experiences in Academic Decathlon and why the death of this program would be so devastating. Academic Decathlon is a ten-subject event, with topics ranging from math, to history, to economics. However, the subjects most immediately applicable to actual everyday life would undoubtedly be speech and interview. These two subjects were the hardest for me to tackle, and I found them much more difficult than having to answer which architectural feature most defined the Gothic church style, or what country’s folk music directly influenced Brahms’ compositional style. Those questions were hard, but they mostly required vigorous studying. Speech and interview, on the other hand, went against my instinct and forced me to confront my aversion to speaking publicly. Before this program, I was a completely different student. I remember how shy and awkward I used to be as a freshmen/sophomore. For someone who would just sit at the back of class and never raise his hand, having to give an impromptu speech or conduct an interview with three grown strangers was the stuff of nightmares. But through perseverance, I improved. I’m still not on President Obama’s level when it comes to the art of speaking, but I no longer shake when I have to present in front of the class. I know most of my teammates were the same way, and I know how Decathlon has made us all more comfortable in our own skin.

Something else I’ve gained from the program is a stronger work ethic. I was a huge procrastinator, and I would never do my homework. My lack of work reflected in my grades, and my report card was dominated by 'C's, with a few 'B's and even some 'F's. Although my grades reflected my laziness, they didn’t reflect my potential. I was finally tired of being known as the “smart but lazy” kid, and I realized I wanted more than that. I don’t know how I might have ended up had I not joined Decathlon. Maybe I would go to community college if I found the motivation to do even that. In any case, my path was not very bright. So I decided it was time for a change. The other eight subjects all required a deep understanding of the material to do well; that understanding could only be gained through reading the study guides over and over. The difference between how I wanted to do and how I actually did gave me a rude awakening over the summer, so, for the first time in my life, I actually started studying at home. After heading to Sacramento for the state competition and exceeding even my loftiest expectations, I’ve realized how much Decathlon has changed me for the better. Since last summer, I’ve actually started doing most of my assignments and my grades have improved dramatically. Last semester, I earned four 'A's and my mom was so proud she stuck my report card on the fridge. I may not end up going to Harvard or MIT, but I’m sure I’ll get accepted somewhere nice.

As proud as I am of what I’ve done, I’m even prouder of what the team has done. I’ve always known about how lacking Franklin was compared to other schools in wealthier neighborhoods, but it wasn’t until I actually visited the campuses of schools like El Camino Real and the national champions Granada Hills that I realized what we were up against. In the middle of nice neighborhoods with school parking lots filled with new cars, visiting these other schools was like landing on Mars. The halls were clean and the ceilings didn’t have holes in them. I’ll admit that I was filled with a little jealousy and envy over all the advantages these schools had over humble Franklin, but those feelings were soon drowned out by the pride I felt due to all that we had accomplished despite our disadvantages. Even with the few opportunities the students from the neighborhood have been given to succeed, we still manage to overcome. We finished fourth in LAUSD and fifth in the state. That’s pretty amazing, considering that eight out of nine kids on the team don’t even speak English at home.

Although funding may be gone next year, we’ll still persevere and have a team. Even if we have to struggle to get the money needed, we’ll find a way to buy the study materials for next year. On June 8, the team will be throwing a fundraiser at the Ebell Club on Figueroa and Avenue 57. It’ll be a silent auction where people will be able to bid on items donated by local businesses for the event. Not only will you be able to buy cool new things, you’ll also be supporting an amazing program like Academic Decathlon. Honestly, what could be better than that?

Karla Johnson May 04, 2012 at 12:39 AM
What an amazing story. I hope the Highland Park community comes out to the fundraiser to support wonderful students like Alex. I'll be there! See you all June 8th!

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