Students at ACEL Fresno — a charter high school — were studying hard last week for their school’s first attempt at Fresno County’s Academic Decathlon.
ACEL, which opened in 2008, has an official enrollment of 114 students, principal Stephen Morris said.
The team’s five seniors, two sophomores and one junior have been preparing for the decathlon since September with a combination of self-study, 3 1/2 hours per week in class, and Saturday study sessions.
“I think if you don’t make that thirst for learning enjoyable, then it’s not something you’re going to want to do,” coach Joshua Blancas said, emphasizing his philosophy. He noted what a competing team does to prepare: “I think University [High]’s on them until 6 p.m. each day—memorizing, memorizing, memorizing.”
Blancas acknowledged that ACEL is “probably the smallest” school in the competition. While most other schools will have teams of nine students, ACEL will compete with eight, all of whom are first-time competitors. Other schools in ACEL’s division include San Joaquin Memorial, Coalinga High, Cambridge Continuation, Caruthers High, Riverdale High, and Pershing Continuation.
Blancas came to ACEL after coaching academic decathlon at Central High School for two years, including 2014, when Central edged out Bullard in the Super Quiz. “That’s the highest Central ever finished,” Blancas said.
The theme for this year’s competition is new energy alternatives, focusing on ingenuity and innovation.
“They each do their own research [and add] their information to Google Docs,” Blancas said. “We’re just fine-tuning now.”
The team recently prepared for the speech and interview portion of the competition, which took place Saturday at Fresno State.
Senior Andrew Buck plans to focus his speech on one of the dilemmas of modern life: “It’s about how social media is creating an anti-social society.”
Other students’ speeches are on topics as diverse as the tabletop role-playing game “Dungeons and Dragons” and the Death Star from “Star Wars.”
Blancas, who talked “all of [the students]” into joining ACEL’s Academic Decathlon team, kept his class thinking about the competition’s ultimate goal. “If we make it to State, we are going to Sacramento,” he told the students.