Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/0130decathlon30.html
Newcomers to English grow on academic team
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 30, 2004 12:00 AM
TEMPE -High school student Carlos Ballesteros began learning
English just over a year ago. Since then, the teenager from Mexico wrote an
award-winning essay during an academic decathlon competition.
Ballestero's teammate, Mauricio Leon, also is a foreign-born student excelling
in speech, language, and writing. He too recently mastered the English language
and already has won several medals for his speaking and interviewing skills.
Both students are part of an ethnically diverse academic decathlon team at
Tempe's Marcos de Niza High School. Nearly half of the team members began
speaking English just a few years ago, but most of them shine in the categories
of writing, speech and communications.
The nine-member team will compete against more than 800 students from 88 high
schools across the state during the regional academic decathlon competition
beginning today. The regionals take place at four locations throughout the
state. Students from each team are tested in the areas of math, language and
literature, economics, science, music and art. Each student also must give a
prepared and impromptu speech and participate in an interview. This weekend's
competition will determine which 40 teams advance to the state competition in
The Marcos students come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, including
Asian, Hispanic, Russian, Romanian and Peruvian.
The students say their love for reading and literature helped them learn the
language quickly. Some also said that watching American television helped them
"When I came to this country I was an ESL (English as a second Language)
student," said 16-year-old Ballesteros. "It's ironic that I took third place in
essay writing. It was the only subject I wasn't expecting to medal in."
The teenager said he hopes to win this weekend in the category of economics, his
Leon has his eye on the speech category. The native Spanish speaker from Peru
has won three medals at various invitationals for his speech-writing and
speaking skills. He said he learned English quickly by reading novels in English
that he had previously read in Spanish.
"If you already know how the story goes, than it's easier to interpret the
language," he said.
Leon says he enjoys giving humorous speeches and that this year he's written a
speech on telemarketing.
"I used to pull pranks on telemarketers but then I became one for awhile and
realized what they go through," Leon said. "They hate their jobs more than we
hate them, so why give them a hard time?"
Leon's telemarketing speech elicited laughter from his teammates as they
listened to him during a lunchtime practice this week.
Leon talks about his own experience as a telemarketer and how he once gave his
pitch to a woman in three languages - Spanish, English and German - in an
attempt to find her native tongue.
"The woman finally said to me, 'Man, anybody trying to sell me something in
three languages must be worth listening to,'" he said.
The group's diversity isn't the only aspect that sets them apart from many other
Unlike most schools, Marcos de Niza does not offer a formal academic decathlon
class, so participating students do not receive school credit. The students at
Marcos de Niza simply volunteer their time and practice during their lunch hours
and after school.
"We're hoping to turn this into a class soon but right now, the kids are doing
it because they love competing," said the group's sponsor, Betty Jo Heath. "They
get no credit but they eat lunch together every day and practice."