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Vanden decathletes share how program changes lives

By From page A2 | June 12, 2014

The best part of being a school board trustee is visiting as many schools and programs as possible throughout the year.

Long before I became a school board trustee, I followed the Vanden High School Academic Decathlon team and their outstanding coach, David Kenyon. Vanden has been a top decathlon winner for approximately 13 years. Academic Decathlon programs in Solano County, in contrast to some of the award-winning ones out of Southern California, run on very limited budgets. It’s probably why not all of our high schools participate in the program.

It’s really a year-round endeavor, as Kenyon and the Vanden team well know, if you expect to be competitive with other counties throughout the state. The regional competition for our area occurs in late January in Fairfield, and the state competition in March in Sacramento. I know for sure that Kenyon has already planned some summer study sessions.

This year, I wanted to say goodbye to the entire team, especially the graduating seniors like Anusha Syed and others. The Vanden decathletes continue to impress year after year. Their attitude, confidence, enthusiasm, leadership and self-image (their attire is always impeccable at every competition) does impress.

I recently made an appointment with Kenyon to bring pizza and drinks to the school one afternoon to say goodbye to an awesome team, especially some of the seniors who I’ve gotten to know over the years. Many of them, I’m sure, I’ll never see again but I know that they will find a way to be in the winner’s circle wherever they go.

Several decathletes shared their thoughts by email about how participation in the decathlon program changed their lives. Their statements point out the many benefits that go far beyond taking the nine rigorous tests.

“As a freshman in high school, I joined Academic Decathlon for the purpose of getting accepted into college and also because my mom said that I had to,” Syed said.

She had no idea that she would acquire skills, confidence and knowledge; and gain even more than that.

Being a top decathlete is not for the faint of heart. Syed describes grueling hours of reading study packets, giving an embarrassing speech, and the laborious task of making flash study cards; all this became a regular part of an average day for her.

She never thought that she would enjoy doing any of these things: completing a 50-question exam in less than half an hour, reading a novel to the point of memorization, planning an entire speech in one minute, and most of all – doing it with confidence.

Sierra Knuckles, who joined the program as a sophomore and had a rough start, also credits her mom with convincing her to join the program. Knuckles now credits the club for increasing her self-confidence and helping her on the road to outgrowing her shyness. She almost quit but decided to try again. All of the hard work paid off, boosting her self-confidence and making her a better student and a better person overall.

“Academic Decathlon is more than test-taking, it’s life-changing,” Sierra wrote.

Alisson Rowland will serve as the co-captain for next year’s team. She is a member of a military family and moving to new places can bring excitement or at times be replaced by a rush of fear, she shared. Rowland credits the Academic Decathlon program as being one of the greatest experiences of her life.

“The club provided me with a home away from home. We decathletes spend hours upon hours with each other, long after other students have vacated the premises. The team mentality that is created through all of us striving for the same goal is an experience unlike any other.”

She credits Kenyon, who not only helped her to grow as a decathlete but also as a student. She became dedicated to her studies, and learned to persevere in the face of competition. She also learned how to become a grateful winner, and even a graceful loser.

We adults could learn a thing or two from Rowland.

Mayrene Bates is a trustee on the Solano County Board of Education. Reach her by email at [email protected]

Mayrene Bates

Mayrene Bates is a trustee with the Solano County Board of Education.

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