Decathletes want class period to train
Park City High School’s Academic Decathlon coaches have a plan to crack the top 10.
Next year, the two teachers who lead the team John Krenkel and Charlie Matthews want to teach a class period for the decathletes, to help train them for the national competition every April. "Academic Decathlon is simply the most prestigious academic games program in the country. It really has caught on," Krenkel said. "Popularity and competitiveness has increased." For teachers to develop their own courses is not uncommon in the Park City School District. An interested teacher fills out a form, gets approval from his/her principal and the district’s curriculum director, Merry Haugen, who then presents it to the School Board. The board will decide if it wants to approve the class at an upcoming meeting. Academic Decathlon team members train after school the same way any athletic team would. Teams that win at the regional and state level then proceed to a national competition, and this year Park City finished third in their division as a medium-sized school and 10th in the nation overall, against schools of all sizes. But, of course, the team wants to rank higher this year. And many teams elsewhere in the nation have classes to focus their training. "How do we continue to be as competitive as we are if we don’t have a course and everybody else does?" Krenkel said. "Am I being fair to the students on our team to say all we can achieve is third place? Do we continue to say third place is good enough? Or do we basically do what everybody else does and try to be better?"
Only nine students participate on the Academic Decathlon team, with a few extra serving as alternates. But for a class to be approved, it has to have 20 students enrolled. Krenkel is confident he and Matthews could get that many students, since freshmen and sophomores could start training before they actually compete on the team. There could be as many as 30 students active in the class, Krenkel said.
Moreover, students in the course would compete for spots on the team. The final team is not determined until the state competition in January. "Until the end of January every alternate is a potential team member," Krenkel continued.
Even with a course, the Academic Decathlon team would continue to meet and train after school. Presence of a course would be advantageous to high-achieving AD students who are also involved in rigorous classes, sports teams, or other active student clubs. "For kids who have other after school activities you don’t lose kids during that time," Krenkel said.
At the national competition this year, a teacher from Ohio said "for us to achieve the levels we achieve with no course is almost unbelievable and I’m extremely proud of the fact we do that," Krenkel reported. "It’s as complicated as coaching a football team or any other sport," he continued.
The School Board is also considering a specially crafted class to help students pass the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test (UBSCT). The test covers reading, math, and writing; passing it is required to graduate from Utah schools with a standard degree. Those students who fail any one of the three sections can retake that section until they score well enough. "I just think it’s a very exciting opportunity for teachers that have a particular idea or particular strength in a curriculum-related area or have a vision for something that’s needed or missing in the current curriculum and could be added as an elective," Haugen said in an earlier interview.
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