The Journal Register (Medina, NY)

January 28, 2013

CURRICULUM

By Jim Krencik
Medina Journal-Register

Medina Journal-Register — LYNDONVILLE — The level of rigor that a group of Lyndonville high school students is facing through the Academic Decathlon is extraordinary to witness, even if most of it is hidden from sight.

Saturday, as a scrimmage against competitors from Victor wound down, the final challenge was the Super Quiz — a Jeopardy!-style test where difficult questions must be answered in a brief period.

The questions flashed on a projector before two groupings of desks, limited in scope to a theme of Russia. Limited in the sense that it covered seemingly anything related to Russia, from space race-era rocketry terms, economic systems, history and culture. Literally, things as dense as a Russian novel — Dr. Zhivago in this case. 

Through it all, students frequently held aloft bright orange pennants, proclaiming that they had answered the multi-choice questions correctly as cheers rained down from a supportive crowd. It was the only public part in a day of oral presentations, written tests and challenges in other academic disciplines.

Lyndonville students did well against Victor, taking 56 out of a possible 90 medals, winning the Super Quiz 2666 to 1583 and the overall competition 35,744 to 32,471.

Lyndonville is one of the last local schools to still offer the program as an extra-curricular activity, and one of the highest achieving programs in its weight class. Awaiting this group of sophomores, juniors and seniors is a statewide competition in March at Syracuse, where Lyndonville has won the small school division four of the past seven years.

The record of success is due to students being committed in their studying of a difficult set of topics, co-coach Paula Reimann said as students practiced on Friday.

”A lot of it is dedication and hard work because it’s such a broad range,” Reimann said, “and a curiosity to learn new things.”

This group of students began working towards Saturday’s competition in July, when the curriculum for this year’s challenge was announced. Lyndonville’s team meets twice a week outside of regular class times, but students took on the challenge of learning an entire subject area.

Teams at three levels, set up by GPA, each had members taking on a specific area of knowledge. While some aspects of the competition are tailored to those focus subjects, the final challenge encompassed all areas.

”They chose the topic most interesting to them and present on each,” co-coach Christine Mostyn said. She said a key to their success is sharing that knowledge in peer-teaching settings. “It’s the dedication, the willingness to help other people.”

Those are skills that have helped students in their other studies and will help them in later years.

”It’s specialized knowledge, but the way I learned this stuff is how I learn other subjects,” said Dakota Froman, who has participated in the Academic Decathlon for three years. He’s covering the scientific section this year.

The topics seem designed to go far beyond what students have learned in class or would otherwise never think about, overwhelming them in both new information and methods of learning. Sandra Clemens tackled the musical section of the curriculum, which featured 16 pieces composed by Russians.

”I like everything ... except this stuff,” Clemens said after explaining how knowing the composers, the styles and the songs themselves are all covered in the competition. “You force yourself to listen. I did like a song last year ... and I like the songs in different languages.”

On Friday, Froman, Clemens and Cole Heideman all prepped for their speeches after a brief break to run around the school. Heideman said he enjoys the curriculum’s focus on the humanities and its difficulty.

”It helps with writing essays, a great strength when it comes to critical thinking,” Heideman, who received a scholarship due to earlier performances in the competition, said. “It’s more rigorous than regular classes.”

Contact reporter Jim Krencik at 798-1400, ext. 6327.