MONMOUTH — Nineteen Monmouth Academy students have dedicated their lunch periods and study halls over the last year to immersing themselves in studying the historical impact of World War I.
All that study in art, economics, essay, interview, language/literature, mathematics, music, science, social science and speech will culminate in a statewide competition called Academic Decathlon on March 1 at Deering High School in Portland.
So why would a bunch of high-school kids give up their free time during every school day to take on extra studies beyond their regular school work?
“It’s delightfully challenging,” said Sarah Record.
Added Becki Bryant: “I think it’s interesting to go deeply into different subjects.”
Monmouth Academy will compete against other high schools from around the state in the various categories in a day-long test of knowledge and thinking that gives “C” students just as much importance as “A” students.
The nine members of the Competition Team include three members with “A” averages over the previous two school years, three members with “B” averages and three members with “C” averages. The rest of the Decathlon Team members are called the Alternate Team and they also can compete for medals in most of the categories.
The day concludes with a rapid-fire “Super Quiz” presided over by Joe Cupo, meteorologist for WCSH-TV Channel 6 in Portland.
Last year, Monmouth won the “Super Quiz,” beating their chief competitor, Scarborough High School, which finished first in the overall competition to Monmouth’s runner-up position. Monmouth was the Small School State Champion.
Monmouth sent its team to the National Academic Decathlon in Minneapolis, Minn., last April.
For students like Angus Koller, the competition is a chance to learn about things not covered in depth in the traditional classroom.
“Most of the things you learn, you just wouldn’t learn otherwise in school,” he said.
The coaches of Academic Decathlon at Monmouth Academy for the past 15 years or so have been the husband-and-wife team of Scott and Cathy Foyt. Scott is retired from a 42-year career as an English teacher at Monmouth Academy, while Cathy is still working at Monmouth Academy as the school social worker and a teacher in the ASPIRE program.
“It’s a never-ending season,” said Cathy Foyt of the year-round practice for the team. “It’s a lot of extra reading.”
Tri-captains for Monmouth’s team are Marinna Smith, Sarah Record and Sabrina Beck.
All of the students read “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway as an example of an influential novel that came out of World War I. They also read poetry by Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot and a stream -of-consciousness piece called “The Mark on the Wall” by Virginia Woolf, which several students said they liked very much.
In the art section, students examined works by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Marsden Hartley and others.
Under music, the students learned about Basic Elements of Music Theory and music from classical pieces to ragtime by Scott Joplin and jazz.
Asked if they have time to make friends with students from other high schools at the state Academic Decathlon, the Monmouth students said most of their time was taken up with competition.
“You’re really focused,” Koller said.
Scott Foyt said there’s more time to make friends at national competitions.
This year’s national Decathlon will be held in Hawaii. Scott Foyt said the Monmouth team stays in Portland for the weekend to learn if they have qualified for a trip to the nationals. Some years, only one team qualifies while other years, two teams get to go.
It’s up to the individual schools to raise money for a trip to the national competition.
“It’s not easy to raise money, but we’ve done it before,” Scott Foyt said.
Asked what set World War I apart from other wars, Koller listed a variety of things.
“It was the first war that used machinery like machine guns, planes and tanks,” he said. “It was a turning point toward modern wars. There were voluntary efforts at home, like Meatless Mondays. You could buy War Bonds and plant Victory Gardens.”
Koller said the team has been working hard to get ready.
“We’re pretty well prepared,” he said. “We started preparing last year after the competition.”