Academic stars from Gwinnett shine in state, nation
By H.M. Cauley
For the last few months, six young scholars from Gwinnett County have been on an odyssey of recognition ceremonies. It began last summer, when the academic team from Trickum Middle School in Gwinnett County beat out 47 competitors to take top honors at the 2012 Junior National Academic Championship tournament in Washington, D.C.
Before heading to the national event, the team scored the highest among 60 teams in the Georgia Academic Team Association contest and took second place among 133 teams in state finals sponsored by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.
Since winning those contests, the team has been lauded at events hosted by their school, the county school board and, just two weeks ago, by Gov. Nathan Deal and the Georgia House of Representatives. But it’s not just the honors and recognition that mean so much to team members Brent Bessemer, Jordan Rice, Julie Wang, Keaton Law, Jason Fan and Ansel Ahabue.
“When everyone in the House clapped for us, that really made us feel special, because a lot of things we do don’t get much notice,” said Law.
His teammate Wang agreed. “Usually, it’s the sports teams that take over.”
At Trickum, the academic stars take the spotlight. The school has an established track record of winning teams that compete in regional and national contests of knowledge on a range of topics, some even beyond the usual middle school curriculum.
“It’s very hard to get on the team,” said coach and math teacher Linda LaPerre, who launched the team 15 years ago. “It’s not that way at every school. We’re lucky that we have 1,900 kids, most of whom have good work ethics and come from environments where education and learning are valued, so our teams have always been fairly successful.”
Prospective members must pass a 60-question quiz. The top 20 scorers face off against each other, and survivors must pass a final exam before making the team. Enough students qualify to fill spots on 5-person A and B teams.
Being on the team means meeting twice a week for an hour before school to brush up on a cross section of topics.
“These tournaments cover all different subject areas and even go into ninth- and 10th-grade curriculum,” said LaPerre. “They learn things they won’t get in middle school, such as the synopses of Shakespeare’s stories, chemistry, opera, art and music.”
Ahabue, the team’s youngest member, has made a specialty of geography. Winner of the school’s geography bee for the last two years, the 12-year-old likes nothing better than to curl up with an atlas.
“My mom taught me to read when I was 2,” he said. “And she bought me a lot of books. I love social studies, history, politics and economics, too.”
But members must possess more than book knowledge, said LaPerre.
“You have to be the kind of person who’s not afraid to put yourself out there,” she said. “If you make a mistake, you can shrug it off. Those are hard characteristics to find in kids sometimes.”
The win at the national tournament last year was particularly sweet for LaPerre.
“We not only competed against people from so many different states,” she said, “but we won as a public school, not a private, charter or magnet.”
But team members say the national win was actually easier than the state round.
“There are a lot of smart people here,” said Law, now 15 and a student at Parkview High. “So we were used to going up against really smart people.”
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