Growth calls for new format in Academic Challenge
Author: Tammy L. Lane • First Posted: Wednesday, March 06, 2013
When the Academic Challenge program began in 2004-2005, only a smattering of youngsters gathered for the new districtwide competition. In recent years, upwards of 2,000 students have squared off in the annual tournament.
“Wow! What a message that sends to our community,” said Arnold Gaither, chairman of One Community, One Voice (OCOV).
OCOV’s mission is to instill in children the importance of education throughout life and to engage families in their students’ schooling. The Academic Challenge also aims to help close achievement gaps via a tournament that students eagerly anticipate. In a nutshell, kids in grades 2-5 work in teams to answer questions in all subject areas in order to advance to the next round.
“It’s not complicated. It’s very straightforward. As a community, as a country, we like to compete for prizes,” Gaither noted. “If we offer students the opportunity to compete, they’ll get excited about learning.”
In the finale, college scholarships are awarded. Students also receive trophies, medals and certificates of excellence for participating, which Gaither said is crucial for encouraging them in the classroom.
“That’s the first step – getting kids to recognize that achievement can be rewarded. Every kid walks away with the idea that he or she has been excellent,” he said.
The carrot approach has succeeded so well that organizers have had to revamp the competition format to accommodate the growing numbers. Previously, teams met in an Invitational, Principals’ Cup and Superintendent’s Cup – with everyone descending on a single host site for each day-long, single-elimination tournament. Now, OCOV and a committee from Fayette County Public Schools have divided schools into three regions for preliminary contests. In addition, teams must reflect the demographics of the school, and no more than two gifted-and-talented students are allowed on each six-member team.
From October through February, schools scrimmaged either in person or through video conferencing. On March 9, William Wells Brown, Veterans Park and Sandersville will host the regional contests. Rotating trophies will go to the winning primary and intermediate teams in each region, who then advance to the final tournament. The Superintendent’s Cup is set for March 26 in Norsworthy Auditorium at “It’s About Kids” Support Services. Members of the two winning teams will receive college scholarships offers, and the college awards for the individual writing and math/science winners will be distributed evenly across the three regions.
Almost since the beginning, several colleges and universities have stepped up every year to support the program. As Gaither said, the whole purpose is “to identify ‘students of promise’ and provide them an opportunity to get scholarships.” Altogether, more than 200 one-year and full, four-year scholarships have been presented by the University of Kentucky, Bluegrass Community & Technical College, Georgetown University, Eastern Kentucky University, Kentucky State, Morehead State and Murray State.
Gaither also credited the invaluable support of sponsors like the Haymaker Foundation, Community Ventures Corp. and the Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County. The Haymaker Foundation, for instance, this year contributed $1,000 to Harrison Elementary and Principal Tammie Franks, recipient of the inaugural Principal’s Academic Team Award. She was cited for increasing participation at Harrison.
Franks, who received the check at a recent district leadership meeting, recalled the early years when her school fielded only one small team and she transported the students in her own car. “Now we have to have a bus, so it’s great!” she said, noting that Harrison boasts about two dozen young competitors.
She also shared the story of a woman who was overwhelmed when her daughter won a scholarship and then asked if her younger brother could do the same. Later, he did. Franks couldn’t have been happier for them and her other big winners, whose success has boosted interest in the Academic Challenge.
“I’ve got four kids going to college who otherwise wouldn’t have the money,” she said.