These Kids Have Given Us Hope

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Feeling low? Think the country’s in a muddle? The schools have lost their way? Families are faltering? And no one really cares?

We have an antidote for what ails you.

Go watch the Payson Academic Decathlon team compete in the state tournament, in which they earned a slot by placing second in the regional competition in Payson last weekend.

The national Academic Decathlon program asks students to spend a semester studying themselves inside out so they can compete head-to-head in a series of competitions that would make any adult’s head spin.

This semester, the students in Kristi Ford’s before-school class studied World War I, the pivotal event of the 20th century. They dove deep into the politics and the war, of course — but they also probed the origins of modern art, the impact of the war on music, the haunting literature of the trenches and college-level economic analysis of the war’s impact. The study guide for the course puts college texts to shame.

Even more remarkable, Acadec presents challenges for kids of all levels — dividing them into three groups based on grade-point averages. The students compete against their grade-point peers, each rising above anyone’s expectations.

Equally heartening, when the local group agreed to host the regional tournament here, the community rallied around. The program requires the students to not only take an intense battery of tests, but to display their skills in front of judges. They gave speeches, went through interviews and competed in a quiz show with questions that make Jeopardy look like a slumber party. That required the assistance of dozens of volunteer judges and proctors. The group brought together a good-hearted collection of community leaders, all willing to spend hours helping out the kids.

Those judges all came away shaking their heads in happy astonishment at what these kids have learned.

Of course — the program’s in some jeopardy itself. Doesn’t that always seem to be how it goes? Kristi Ford has offered the class for the past three years as part of a federal grant that has allowed her to essentially mentor the class of 2014 starting in middle school. She has served as their advocate and tutor — in hopes of boosting the district’s alarmingly low graduation and college attendance rates. She took on Acadec as part of that challenge.

The district hopes to renew that grant next year. That could endanger the future of the Acadec program, since Ford would return to the middle school to start mentoring another class.

But even if the district doesn’t get the grant, we hope the school board members who participated so cheerfully in this weekend’s competition will support this program, no matter what.

These kids give us hope.

Now we have to show them that we really care.

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