by Cameron Calvillo
“Every morning I arrive at RHS at 6:40 a.m., and have the opportunity to coach and mentor some of the most savvy and skillful students on campus.” Those are the words of Amber Hunt, a French teacher at Reedley High; she is also Reedley’s Academic Decathlon coach. You heard her. Six-forty a.m. every day, and the students aren’t far behind. Their long day begins at 7:00 a.m. They study material for a major test in January, when their scores will be compared to those of other schools for awards and medals. In addition, they prepare a speech on a topic of their choice to present in front of a panel of judges. This is how the early mornings are spent.
It is a lot of hard work and the competition is tough, but the class prepares these bright young students for college and the real world. Amber explains with pride, “My favorite aspect of teaching Academic Decathlon is seeing how the students progress and grow from the beginning of the year to competition day. They begin each year with a new topic, and they must study math, social science, art, literature, music, science, and economics.” This year the topic is World War One; last year the students tackled India. “They also must write a speech for the competition. This is the toughest part because they write a speech in August, are sick of it and want a new speech by the time we get to October, and the competition isn’t even until January.” Because the students can choose to write their speech on anything, it can be overwhelming and difficult, as they all want to choose the perfect topic. But it’s worth it in the end. “The students work incredibly hard and devote many hours to the team; it always pays off when students receive individual medals for their success. Every year I’m extremely proud of the team and the amount of work they do to accomplish their goals. The day of competition, the class takes a bus to the hosting school where tests are taken, scores counted, and awards are handed out to the exceptional scholars.”
Many schools focus on being the best and winning many awards. But with Reedley High, the atmosphere is different. Brooke Hager, who’s participating in Academic Decathlon for her fourth year, shows this by sharing her favorite memory. “My favorite one would definitely be the many bus rides I shared with my fellow decathletes, because it was in those moments where we shared many laughs, serious conversations, rap battles, and last-minute cramming for the competition. It is also because of those bus rides that I have made so many great friends, who continue to amaze me with their talents and kind hearts.” And this is one experience she shares. Reedley High has always been the team that knows how to have fun, not only on the bus rides, but in the classroom and at the competition. Every year at the competition, Reedley High walks onto the floor carrying a giant stuffed Elmo who wears a Reedley Aca Dec shirt. It’s a fun and important tradition to the team. When someone wins a medal for a high score, they scream and hold up posters, cheering on their fellow decathletes.
Indeed, many new students who join the class walk in knowing only a few people. But by the day of competition, they all jump on the bus laughing and joking in ways only family can do, and in a way not seen with the other schools.
Reedley may not always win the most medals, but they are by far the best Academic Decathlon team in the valley. Katrina Harler, who is now in Academic Decathlon for her third year, wraps it up nicely: “On the competition days that first year, although I was nervous and stressed, I knew I would sign up again for several reasons. Joining Academic Decathlon has led me to new friendships that might not have existed if we were not all involved. It also strengthened existing friendships, while simultaneously helping each of us realize which subjects we were strongest in, and which we enjoyed the most. Receiving exposure to 10 different areas of study led me to choose a Biology major, after repeated enjoyment of the science sections throughout my three years of involvement. After my experience, I would recommend Academic Decathlon to anyone, because you might discover you are better at things you never considered before, making friends along the way.”