Although schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District have earned many titles in past national Academic Decathlons, four students from East L.A.’s Garfield High School will be the first-ever to participate as individuals in the competition this week.
Garfield’s team finished seventh in the state competition held last month. But for Joey Nabor, Wendy Olvera, Alfonso Caballero and Brian Rios, the competition wasn’t over.
The decathlon organization invited the four Eastside students to compete as individuals against students from various schools, including South Pasadena High, Beverly Hills High and West High. The competition takes place April 16-18 in Garden Grove.
Boyle Heights Beat spoke with the proud Garfield students competing this week for a chance at the national title.
How many hours were you spending per week in preparation for this?
Brian Rios, 18: It’s shorter now than when we were studying for the state competition. Now, we stay about three hours each day, so about 12 hours each week. Whereas when were preparing for state (competition) it was about five hours each day and 12 hours on Saturdays. But with time you get to know the material better. It’s mostly review at this point.
Wendy Olvera, 17 :You don’t have a social life for the most part. At family events, they scold you if you are studying instead of being outside and relaxing. But school work is a killer because you have all this homework and you’re getting out late. I get home at 9:30 p.m. and I still have to do all of my chores, homework, and by the time I finish all that I need to do, it’s already 3 a.m.
How does it feel to represent Garfield High?
Brian Rios, 18: We were mostly known as the Jaime Escalante School at the state competitions because people would say, ‘Oh, hey you’re from Garfield right? The whole Stand and Deliver thing. And they act like our math program is good but I want to be known to be a part of this, the first school ever in LAUSD to go this decathlon as individuals.
What does accessibility in academics look to you- do you think you are on an equal playing field with your competitors?
Brian Rios, 18: I remember being at the right of University High from Fresno County and at the left Beverly Hills High School, a school just as affluent. I was taking the music exam. They finished in five minutes and I asked, ‘Do you know it that well?’ And they said, ‘Yeah. I’m taking Advanced Placement (AP) music theory class. This is like the back of my hand. ‘Good for you,’ I said. But I don’t think that takes away from how I can know it just as well as they can. And in fact we did know it better than them, we outplaced many of those schools, that’s proof that a little school from East L.A. can roll with the big dogs.
Who has helped you stay motivated on this journey?
Alfonso Caballero, 16: My inspiration would have to be my family. Both of my parents were born in Mexico and they came to the U.S in the late 1990’s. It’s not easy changing your life that way. And they are the ones that have told me always, I have to study and be more than what they were. And I take that as my motivation and inspiration because without them I would not be in the academic decathlon had I not had their backing. And I told them, when I was in track and field, this is something that is going to help me academically and I want to try it. They said, ‘Whatever you do, we have your back.’ That’s what motivates me.
Why do you deserve to win?
Alfonso Caballero, 16: It’s a lot of work. We deserve to win this not only because we did the work but also because there is no other team like us. We’re like family; we actually have fun studying. There’s no other team that has the chemistry and love we have for each other. The people in this group became my best friends””and I can’t wait to hang out with them even more when this is over. So it sucks that after this year, those of us who are seniors are going on our paths. But I can’t and won’t stop hanging out with these people. I learned so much from them.
What is the first thing you will do after the decathlon?
Wendy Olvera, 17: You know how teachers tell us what to read? Yeah, I feel like that doesn’t work. It’s something about when they assign us reading that makes you not want to read. So when I’m off, I want to relax and read something that I like.
What are your futures goals and endeavors?
Wendy Olvera, 17: Well, I just got accepted to UCLA and a couple of others schools. But I’m waiting to hear back from Smith’s college and another private. I want to study neuroscience and get my degree. The brain fascinates me; it’s so unique, so interesting to see the clockwork of it all.