March 29, 2006 - Northwest schools are quickly proving the area is raising some of the brightest students in the country.
The academic decathlon team at Canyon Del Oro High School won the Arizona Academic Decathlon on March 11 and will represent Arizona at the national championship in San Antonio April 26 to 29.
The two Odyssey of the Mind teams at Casas Christian School, a private elementary and middle school, placed first and second, respectively, at the Southern Arizona regional competition and will move on to the state finals in Tempe on April 1.
CDO's academic decathlon toppled defending champs Mesa Mountain View High School at the state championship with a score of 46,482 points, finishing just 76 points ahead of Mesa Mountain View. It was the first state championships win for CDO.
Forty teams competed in 10 events at the Mesa championship, including written tests, interviews and speeches. All events related to the year's curricular theme: the European Renaissance.
CDO will be a major contender at the National championship, said Chris Yetman, the team's advisor. While California typically fields the strongest team, CDO and teams from Texas and Wisconsin are close behind based on their state championship scores, Yetman said.
"Certainly, second place is very attainable. With a strong performance, we could win it," Yetman said.
From about 30 students participating in CDO's academic decathlon club, nine are selected for the competition team. As required in academic decathlon bylaws, three of the teammates have A averages, three have B averages, and three have C averages.
"It was the C average kids that really came through and won it for us this year," Yetman said. "Academic Decathlon gives some kids who may not be the strongest students a chance to really prove themselves."
The 10 events of the decathlon test students in music, art, economics, math, literature, history and social science, essay writing, speech and interview performance. The students spend the year studying these subjects in addition to their normal high school course load.
"It's basically like taking seven college level classes," Yetman said.
In just a few years, the CDO academic decathlon team has gained a high profile within the school and is attracting more and more students into its program.
"A lot of kids know about it and recognize what they do. We've been able to recruit some really good kids," Yetman said. "It's a way to learn about things beyond the normal high school curriculum. It's also a way for the geeks of the world to get some recognition."
Casas Christian's Odyssey of the Mind team has built a successful program in its three-year history. Last year, two of its teams placed high enough to compete at the World Finals in Aims, Iowa, and achievement program coordinator Jennifer Caldwell hopes to duplicate at the state finals April 1.
The two teams each consist of seven students, the first consisting of third to fifth graders, and the second of which is fourth to sixth grade students. The younger team has focused on ancient Egypt, while the older team competes in the fields of geometry and structure, Caldwell said.
Odyssey of the Mind is a problem-solving competition, some of which is prepared and some of which demands spontaneous decisions. It combines both creative and technical skills and rewards cooperation and teamwork, Caldwell said.
"You don't have to be good at everything to be successful. The teams bring together different talents to meet a goal," Caldwell said.
For the competition, the ancient Egypt team has prepared a skit that is required to have a big plot twist at the end. The students' skit is about an archeologist who discovers a mummy that has powers of time travel and who takes the archeologist to meet the ancient Pharaohs. The archeologist later discovers that the mummy is actually the biblical figure Moses, and other events in the skit follow the events of Moses' life.
"Odyssey of the Mind is student-driven, and they aren't helped by parents or teachers," Caldwell said. "If the student wants to make a costume, they have to sew it themselves."
The geometry and structure team builds a balsa wood structure, and then teams compete to see which structure holds the most weight, Caldwell said.
While the teams are told the basic parameters of a problem, there is always a mystery component not revealed until the competition that the teams must find a solution to, Caldwell said.
Competing in Odyssey of the Mind has a tremendous educational benefit for the students involved, Caldwell said.
"It doesn't always attract the most out-going kids, and many are taking risks in decision-making for the first time," Caldwell said. "You see the kids grow in their confidence and their ability to speak in front of an audience."