By Brenda Gazzar, Los Angeles Daily News | http://bit.ly/1tvPLSG
El Camino Real High School student Brandon Slater studies at school Thursday for the national Academic Decathlon championship in Hawaii that will take place April 24-26. Michael Owen Baker — Staff photographer
Granada Hills Charter student Mayson Lee prepares for the United States Academic Decathalon Championships April 16, 2014. The team will be flying to Hawaii next week to take part in the national competition.Andy Holzman — Staff photographer
POSTED: 04/20/14, 3:31 PM PDT :: Granada Hills Charter High School student Jenean Docter spent up to 12 hours every day during her spring break hitting the books.
But she didn’t mind. She looked forward to coming to school at 8 a.m. every day to pore over literature and other subjects to get ready for the U.S. Academic Decathlon National Competition that starts Thursday in Honolulu.
“There’s an exhilarating feeling of I’m improving more. I’m finally getting more out of all this,” the 16-year-old Docter said last week while taking a break from studies with teammate Irene Lee. “I’m being around my friends who are decathletes. We call each other family. Honestly, we’re really close and the time commitment is worth it.”
The Granada Hills Academic Decathlon team is going for its record-setting fourth consecutive national championship. Meanwhile, El Camino Real High School is hoping to nab its seventh national title — it last won in 2010. Both San Fernando Valley schools will be competing against the top teams in the country and from London and China.
“The mood is very positive; there’s a lot of confidence mixed in with some healthy fear of losing,” said Mathew Arnold, one of three Granada Hills coaches. “There’s a lot of laughing and a lot of joking around in addition to some really long hours studying.”
The Granada Hills team left Saturday for Hawaii to give them an opportunity to adjust to their new setting and the three-hour time change. Arnold said last week he was planning to take interested students to an Easter service in Honolulu.
The El Camino Real team will leave for Hawaii Tuesday. El Camino coach Stephanie Franklin said she had other courses to teach and didn’t want the kids to miss spending the holidays with their families.
“Passover is (last) week. There’s Good Friday and Easter Sunday — that’s three big holidays,” Franklin said. “You don’t mess with the big ones — at least I don’t.”
The Academic decathletes will take 30-minute multiple choice tests in the subjects of economics, music, language and literature, math, science, and social science. Each team member also gives a planned four-minute speech and a two-minute impromptu speech and participates in a seven-minute interview. The students took the art and essay portions of the test earlier this month. The competition culminates in the Super Quiz relay, which features multiple-choice questions on a variety of subjects. The theme of this year’s competition is World War I.
Each nine-person team must include three students who are A average (honor students) three who are B average (scholastic students) and three who are C average (varsity students).
The El Camino Real team was also feeling upbeat in recent days, though Franklin was mum about how many hours her team was putting in over spring break.
“You’ll never hear us tell you,” she said. “We’ve been sleeping late. They come, work till they’re done and then go home.”
El Camino Real student Brandon Slater, who was studying in a top floor classroom dubbed the penthouse, said he was feeling “pretty confident” about his team’s chances of winning since they’ve kept their momentum after winning the state competition.
But his colleague, Neelem Sheikh, coyly declined to say how she felt about their chances.
“I don’t want to jinx things,” she said.
Students from both teams were also excited — and some a bit nervous — that this year’s competition is being held in Hawaii.
“It’s an amazing place,” Slater said, noting he’s visited a few times. “But in terms of the competition, we have to focus. I know were going to be very distracted being in Hawaii but we have a goal that we set out from the start that we want to win Nationals.”
Docter of Granada Hills said she, too, would do her best to not get distracted.
“It’s a tropical paradise and yeah, it’s going to be hard to focus, but Nationals is important and we want to do our best so I’ll try and stay away from looking out the window while I’m studying,” she said.
Her colleague Irene Lee was “so excited” about traveling to Hawaii for the first time and was looking forward to enjoying the beach after they will have been “slaving away inside the hotel rooms” before and during the grueling two-day competition.
While Honolulu might offer them a bit of a distraction, “I think the drive (to do well) is greater than the desire to have fun,” she said.
Granada Hills senior Jenny Baek said while there was no room for complacency before or during the competition, she was excited about spending time with her teammates afterwards doing something other than studying.
“I think we’re actually going to go scuba diving or maybe parasailing so I’m excited,” she said. “I haven’t been to the beach in a long time.”