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Our future is in good hands

See what happens when 10 members of the Rockwall High School Academic Decathlon team spend an evening at AstroDad’s astronomical observatory in Oklahoma…

(Rockwall) June 11, 2013 This past weekend I had the privilege of hosting ten students from the award-winning Rockwall High School Academic Decathlon team at my observatory in Oklahoma.

It was my privilege because these students form the nucleus of the top-rated public high school team in the nation. Coached by RHS teachers Michael Oldham and Nicole Redmond,  the team has won four consecutive state championships and have repeatedly qualified for  the national finals. To say this is an Academic Powerhouse Team would be an understatement. From the Rockwall ISD website, the following indicates the team and individual performances in the 2012-13 competition:  

RHS was the highest scoring team in the state regardless of school size and as a result will represent the state of Texasat the United States Academic Decathlon Finals in Minneapolis, Minnesotaon April 25-27, 2013.  This marks the school’s second consecutive appearance at the finals, following their third place finish at nationals last year.  Team members won a total of 26 medals and brought home  $22,800 in scholarship money.

  • Rebecca Voth- $1200 in scholarship money.
  • Kennady Abbott- Gold in Economics, Bronze in Science, Bronze in Art. $1200 in scholarship money.
  • Jacob Cariker-  Silver in Music, Gold in Economics, Gold in Science, Silver in Art, Gold in Social Science, Fourth Overall Honors Student.  $2200 in scholarship money
  • Cade Janke-  Gold in Interview (perfect score), Gold in Speech (perfect score), Bronze in Math.  $1200 in scholarship money
  • Tommy Nguyen-  Bronze in Math, Silver in Science, Second Overall Scholastic Student. $3700 in scholarship money
  • Jonny Saunders-  Gold in Music, Silver in Economics, Gold in Science, Silver in Social Science, First Overall Scholastic Student.  $4700 in scholarship money
  • Sarah Jester-  Silver in Music, Silver in Language and Literature.  $1200 in scholarship money
  • Grant Workings-  Silver in Music, Bronze in Science, Silver in Art, Bronze in Social Science, Third Overall Varsity Student.  $2700 in scholarship money
  • Enrico Trevisani-   Gold in Interview, Gold in Music, Gold in Art, First Overall Individual Varsity Student.  $4700 in scholarship money

Imagine the incredible hullaballo that would arise if the RHS football team was a fourpete to high school national competition, posting four straight Texas state victories.  I can’t imagine such a parade.  However, these young people on the Academic Decathalon team have accomplished just such a consistent victory set.  Spending a night under the stars with these young people left me with a better understanding of the citizens they are and will grow into as they mature.

First, one has to ask how many high school students consider driving up to a dark place in the woods with adults on the first full night of summer vacation to be a reward. Since our site is filled with astronomy tools and references, these young adults were in a very happy place. The group quickly adapted to their surroundings, tossing a blanket onto one of the many concrete telescope pads that dot the 40-acre site.  They quietly discussed the Universe as they observed it first-hand.

For my part, around midnight it became obvious that I was the engine that drove their impromptu Mind Game.  They were giving each other points for who asked the best questions.  Turns out that in my “teaching state” I tend to listen to questions, restate and assess their efficacy. This means I often say, “Excellent question” or “Did you mean to ask nnn” or “I’m not sure that’s a question I can answer because of…”. Apparently the first question got a point, while the second was neutral and the last was a deducted point, respectively.  I only realized this when we were all cooped up in the dome of our 16-inch computerized telescope, and the current RHS Valedictorian asked why the color bands on Saturn have emerged as they appear.  Yes, in a 16-inch telescope one not only sees Saturn’s rings in great detail, as well as many of its Moons, but you can easily observe the different equatorial colors with your own eye!

One of the younger members set me back in my observatory when, after explaining why I think our species needs to start evolving and stop making wars because we are approaching maximum planetary carrying capacity.  Following up on earlier dinner discussion on how long they thought we would be around, I said another thousand years unless something changes, this one young man replied, “so you see it as a Malthusian problem?”

Did this guy just invoke Thomas Malthus the late 18th century philosopher?  This exchange reminded me that the team not only dealt with questions of science and astronomy to become the best of the best, but also topics of literature, economics, history and more.

Significantly, coaches Oldham and Redmond have been critical to the team’s unprecedented success. I know both of these amazing educators and am thankful that they do what they do for our society. We all owe a great debt of gratitude to the team’s coaches. On this trip it was Mr. Oldham, the science teacher who chaperoned the students. I realized that this trip was not too much of a stretch for him when he proudly displayed an image of Saturn taken with his cell phone.

So the next time you find yourself walking out of a field or stadium after the team loses and your head is hanging low, maybe you should consider supporting the Rockwall High School Academic Decathlon team because the seem to lose very, very few times in a year.

Max Corneau, aka AstroDad, of Rockwall

Our Universe Today is a column written by Blue Ribbon News special contributor, Max Corneau, aka AstroDad, of Rockwall.

Max retired from the U.S. Army in 2009 as a Lieutenant Colonel, Senior Space Operations Officer and Master Aviator.  He amassed over 3,200 hours as a pilot of Special Electronic Mission Airplanes.  Since 2004 he has been a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador, is a Master of Astronomical Outreach through the Astronomcial League and built his own astronomical observatory. His amazing images can be seen at AstroDad.com.

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