A small group of minority students from working class families in Ontario, California are competing in the Academic Decathlon against the top teams in the country. This is the first time in the history of the school that a team actually has a chance to place in the state and possible make it to the National Championship.
What makes this more compelling is the fact that these kids were never really expected to make it this far. Most of the team is made up of minority students who live in communities, parts which are not the safest, and come from single parent homes with very humble backgrounds. Some rarely get out of their neighborhood and were never expected to do well. They were never expected to do much. But somehow, they've defied the odds and are showing their academic grit against the toughest competition in California and the Unites States.
The teachers volunteer their time and the schools they are competing against are well-established, generously supported programs that are perennial powerhouses in state and national competitions. They include Beverly Hills, El Camino, Granada Hills, Franklin, Marshall and Chatsworth High Schools to name a few. These determined kids are not intimidated by the big name schools that last year placed 1-2-3 in the state and 1 and 2 in the country.
The scrappy kids from Ontario, California just 50 miles east of Los Angeles include sisters Samantha (Sammy) and Dominique (Nikki) Salazar, Jeannette Rios, Luis Rodriguez and Brenda Castro to name a few, are doing what no other school in San Bernardino county has done before. They are competing at the highest level and holding their own against the best. They beat Beverly Hills High and at a recent scrimmage against LAUSD power house schools, beat Franklin HS who had placed 3rd in the state just behind Granada Hills and Chatsworth, the top 2 teams in the nation. Not bad for a rag-tag bunch of kids who, with their never-say-die attitude and voracious appetite for knowledge, continue to defy the odds.
They still participate in sports, student government, have AP classes, come home to chores, help take care of their younger siblings and still make time to do volunteer work. They stay up late most every night trying to squeeze out every opportunity to study, sometimes through the sound of police or ambulance sirens until the wee hours of the morning only to have to wake up a few hours later for Aca-Dec (short for Academic-Decathlon) practice.
They start school 1 hour before school starts often arriving to school well before the gates are even open and remain until 5pm when the rest of the school lets out at 2:55 pm. They give up their weekends to meet and study. They get home to read, study and given up most if not all of their social lives using practically every waking minute preparing for the next competition.
Many have seen their share of hardship and come from families of limited financial means. But even through all of this, they have not lost sight of their goal and have kept their focus. They seem even more determined as they also recognize, this may be their only ticket out and into a top college. As Jaime Escalante, the famed L.A. inner-city math teacher who inspired the movie Stand and Deliver put it, you've got to have [i]"ganas"]/i] (which in Spanish means, the will or guts) to do what many don't believe can be done.
On February 6, 2014, they placed 1st at the 2013-14 San Bernardino Academic-Decathlon, which automatically qualified them for the state finals next month in Sacramento. These tough-minded kids are going for it and more. Simply said, they are not afraid to stand and deliver against the best, regardless of the odds and what others think they can or cannot do.