Pershing Continuation team debuts in Fresno County's Academic Decathlon

The Fresno BeeJanuary 31, 2014 

Update: The Pershing Continuation High School team will not be competing in Saturday's Super Quiz. Only one team member showed up at Central East, the site of Fresno County's Academic Decathlon, coach John Barber said.

Fresno County's Academic Decathlon has a new competitor -- a team of students from Pershing Continuation High School in Fresno who have dedicated months of study and preparation, and who are going up against some of the nation's best teams today.

The school joins only a handful of alternate education campuses in the state to field a team, said coach John Barber.

"The goal was for the students to experience something outside their comfort zone," Barber said. "I roped some of the students into it. This is their only chance on campus for higher academic involvement."

Students at Pershing are typically focused on earning credits fast so they can graduate -- and Academic Decathlon is not a fast credit. Students attend continuation schools such as Pershing because of truancy, behavior or other problems that cause them to fail at traditional high schools.

Since August, the team has studied art, literature, economics and other topics from the World War I era for this year's competition. Barber noted it might be a good omen that the school's namesake, John "Black Jack" Pershing, was commanding general of the American Expeditionary Force during the war.

Senior Kraig Archuleta held his hand about a foot above a desk to describe the thickness of the binder the students read and covered with highlight marks.

"I've never been in anything like this," Archuleta said. "I never thought I could be in anything like this."

Senior Carlos Beza said he hasn't spent much time thinking about the competitive Super Quiz to feel overwhelmed.

"When you hear 'Academic Decathlon,' you think of top-ranked students and that you'll never get into it, but it's been cool to learn more (about World War I)," Beza said. "I'm a little nervous. I don't know what to expect."

However, Barber has known from the get-go what to expect for the teens on the team. He wanted them to grow as students.

"For me the focus has been more on the learning than the culminating event," Barber said. "I keep telling them, 'However you guys do at that is great. That's the icing on the cake.' "

Archuleta was the only member of the six-member team to go to the speech and interview portion of the competition last Saturday at Fresno State. It was the first time he had been on the campus.

"He turned to me and said, 'I could hang here,' " Barber said.

Archuleta, a big music fan, gave a speech about what he called the "weird" music of the era, and he credited the experience with getting him past his stage fright.

Archuleta said he's heard how "crazy" the actual Academic Decathlon can be. So far he has only done the speeches and interviews, which he said didn't have a competitive feel.

Barber, who has proctored parts of the competition the past 13 years and knows the intensity of the Super Quiz, chimed in with a chuckle, "This next Saturday will be different."

Pershing will be up against several heavyweight contenders, including University High, the Academic Decathlon Small Schools national champion for the past seven years, and Edison High, which claimed 14 county championships.

It will be a new experience for the whole team, including the coach, Barber said. But he said the students' preparation and what it has taught them has been its own victory -- irrespective of how the team fares on Saturday.

Academic Decathlon

When: Saturday for testing, Super Quiz and awards

Where: Fresno County at Central East High School; Tulare County at Mission Oak High, Tulare; Kings County, Sierra Pacific High, Hanford; Madera County, Madera South High. Check back at Saturday night for coverage of the Fresno County Super Quiz and Valleywide results.

State Championships: March 20-23, Sacramento

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6279 or

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