Kristi Ford’s voice cracked and she held back tears as she talked to Academic Decathlon students, a program funded by the Gear Up grant, on Saturday, Nov. 16.
“Members of the community judge you,” she said to the students as they waited to hear the results of the academic scrimmage. “After listening to you give speeches and answer interview questions, they came out and said, ‘Now I have hope.’”
Ford started the Academic Decathlon curriculum to enhance Payson High School (PHS) students’ experience in school as part of the Gear Up Grant, a Federal grant managed by Eastern Arizona College, three years ago.
After a modest start, interest has snowballed into a class with more than two-dozen students.
At Saturday’s competition, audience members could not miss the energy of the students from Payson and schools from as far away as Kingman and St. Johns as well as Phoenix answer questions during the Super Quiz. The students dressed in costumes and used props they brought to the stage to amp up the fun of the academic competition.
The genius of the Academic Decathlon curriculum is that a ‘C’ average student can compete in the same competitions as an ‘A’ or ‘B’ student.
Students learn and are tested on a time period — this year the topic is World War I — from the period’s science, to its economics, art, math, literature and history.
During competitions, they take tests on all subjects. They also have to write and deliver a speech and answer questions extemporaneously in an interview, besides competing in the game show-like Super Quiz.
Academic Decathlon has been around for years. It started in California and the first competition was held in Bolsa Grande in 1968.
The founder of the program, Dr. Robert Peterson, dreamed of the Academic Decathlon when he was a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II.
He believed, “…there is a champion in the heart of every student.”
The Payson team showed it had many champions on Saturday by wracking up an impressive number of points to win first place out of the six schools that competed in the Payson scrimmage.
“I’m a crier, my kids will tell you that,” said Ford as she announced the Payson team had taken first place.
Her kids nodded in agreement. They all know their mentor well.
Hopefully, the school will receive another Gear Up grant next year so Ford can continue her work.
If not, the future of the Academic Decathlon in Payson is uncertain.