For the second consecutive year, Elsinore High School has been invited to compete at the Academic Decathlon state finals to be held in Sacramento next month.
The team of nearly a dozen EHS students took second place in the regional competition earlier this month with teacher Ryan Klopp as their coach.
“At our county competition this year we broke all of our school records," Klopp said. "We won first place in the Super Quiz, second place overall, won more medals, and scored more points than we have in any previous competition. We are heading up to the state competition as the 24th ranked team in the entire state which is a great accomplishment considering how many high schools across the state compete each year. It has truly been a great year and I am proud of our team’s accomplishments."
How do Klopp and his students do it? And what advice does he have for parents who would like to see their kids succeed academically? Here’s what he had to say:
Patch: Why is EHS having so much success in the Academic Decathlon?
Klopp: Many reasons. First and foremost, Elsinore High School has a bunch of academic oriented and highly motivated students who just need a venue to show their talents off. Moreover, success breeds more success and our Academic Decathlon program has been gaining momentum as a top ranked program in Riverside County for several years now. Students are motivated to build upon an existing foundation of success without allowing the progress to be halted or reversed. Finally, I believe that myself, the administration, and the students’ parents have created an environment where academics can flourish and are even encouraged. I have dedicated thousands and thousands of hours to preparing my teams for competition, with the support of my administration and parents, and the students continue to rise to the challenge of meeting my exacting demands.
Patch: What was particularly special about this year's team?
Klopp: Well as I stated above, we had a banner year for our program. I have a lot of great kids who made countless sacrifices to place the good of the team above themselves. These students are talented academically and when push comes to shove they had the drive and commitment to accomplish many of their individual and team goals.
You teach AP and AVID classes, and you head up the Academic Decathlon team for EHS. What makes students want to excel in academics? What are some of the common traits these kids possess?
Klopp: Every student has his or her own unique qualities and areas of expertise. Some are gifted athletes, others talented musicians, singers, and actors, while some students excel at using their brains. When I was in high school, I was not athletic but I was smart and I joined the Academic Decathlon team to give myself an outlet for my talents and to get involved in an extra-curricular activity. I have many students who are smart, have a passion for learning, and possess a competitive spirit. The same reasons that would compel a football player to practice hard or a pianist to spend hours at the piano motivate my students to be the best they can be academically in the Academic Decathlon competition.
Patch: What percentage of Academic Decathlon, AP or AVID kids go on to college and how much of an emphasis is there on college in your classes?
Klopp: At EHS, the percentage of AVID kids who go to college is pretty close to 100 percent yearly. Typically it amounts to only a small handful of graduating AVID seniors who do not attend college right after graduation. I do not have statistics for AP students but I would venture to say it is pretty high as well since students wouldn’t take the most challenging college level classes available in high school if they are not planning on attending college to begin with. As for my Academic Decathlon students, I do not track their college going rate, however I am fairly certain that through the years it is close to 100 percent. Academic Decathlon students enjoy learning otherwise they would not subject themselves to the rigors of Academic Decathlon to begin with. I currently have students at UCLA, USC, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins to name a few places.
Patch: What are the greatest benefits for kids competing in the Academic Decathlon? What do they gain from it?
Klopp: The benefits for students who compete in Academic Decathlon are innumerable. First, they gain a bunch of knowledge from a diverse array of subjects. Students typically learn math, science, history, and literature in school. However, Academic Decathlon also exposes them to music theory and fine art. Another benefit Academic Decathlon provides is the chance to learn public speaking skills through the speech competition and also interview skills, which students will use when they are interviewed for college admissions, scholarships, and jobs in the future. Academic Decathlon provides a chance for smart kids to show their talents and receive recognition and praise, while also providing an opportunity for them to interact with like-minded individuals with similar interests. Each year, the team forms incredibly strong bonds and becomes a mini family of sorts.
Patch: How cool is it to be a "smart" high schooler these days? Have you seen any changes in perception among students?
Klopp: Honestly, this would be a great question to ask students on the team. I believe they can provide a richer perspective than I could. I would love to say it is cool to be smart and I certainly do my best to portray that sentiment, but I am not privy to discussions that happen outside the classroom.
Patch: What would you tell middle-school parents who are hoping to see their kids in high school classes such as AP, etc?
Klopp: I really think that parents should try their best to encourage their kids to take advantage of their educational opportunities. So many people take their free education for granted and do not appreciate how important challenging themselves can be. AP classes and Academic Decathlon train students to be better learners and translate to increased levels of success at the college level. If college is the end goal for your students, then make sure they are on the right path to get there.