Academic Decathlon: Competition and Life Skills

2022 marks PAFE’s 20th anniversary, and to celebrate, we will share a story each month to honor the teachers and students who are making a difference thanks to your donations. 

The United States Academic Decathlon is an educational competition that brings teams of students together and teaches skills that prepare students for life after high school. PAFE has been pleased to fund this program at Sandpoint High School over the years and supply the binder and curriculum. 

In December, we visited Dana Stockman’s class to see AcaDeca in action and show you how your generosity makes a difference in the classroom.

How it works

Through the AcaDeca curriculum, students study seven core subjects based on a theme. The 21/22 theme is Water: A Most Essential Resource. The core subjects are (music, math [permutations and combinations, algebra, and stats], art, science [marine biology], social science [the impact of water on human history], literature [The Sea-Wolf by Jack London], and economics.

Students also write essays, give prepared and impromptu speeches, and practice interview skills. Students who wish to participate through the art outreach program are invited as guest presenters to Sharon Gunter’s art class at Farmin-Stidwell Elementary School. They talk to the students about AcaDeca and lead them on an art project. This year, it is water-related!

As its name implies, there are ten events of the decathlon – each one worth 1000 points. Teams of nine students compete, working together and individually. 

Any student in grades 9 to 12 can take the course, resulting in a diverse group of students. It is open to all students, regardless of GPA, study habits, or other academic skills. 

A team requires students with a broad cross-section of GPA’s in three different GPA categories: 3.80-4.0 (Honors), 3.20-3.799 (Scholastic), and below 3.199 (Varsity). 

Sophomore student Berkeley Cox says, “I love the AcaDeca environment. We learn so much from the team and each person brings their perspective.” 

Optionally, many students gather for two hours a week through the summer to study together and begin bonding as a team. This also helps them excel in competitions. 

Berkeley said she’s motivated to study in the summer with the team because “It’s really fun to do well at competitions and it’s helpful to get the knowledge before the class starts.” 

In the AcaDeca environment, the subject matter is so vast, students are encouraged to teach others, like in this example. Sophomore Alex Kingma explains the concept of perfect price discrimination to the class.


“Competition is the ultimate goal,” said Dana. And Sandpoint High School has been proud to be State Champs for the past three years. “We hope to make it a fourth in 2022.”

At PAFE, we are always interested in how our grants impact the students. What life skills are they learning and how does this prepare them for life after high school? 

Students who have completed AcaDeca say the interview process made college much easier, and Berkeley told us it helped her improve her study habits. The binders of information they receive are at least two inches thick and require students to figure out what to learn and study. 

One student said she had to give a group presentation as a sophomore in college. The other students in her group were freaking out because they never had to do that, but she was totally prepared. 

The impact of your generosity

Over the years that PAFE has funded AcaDeca, 450 students have participated to become better prepared, both for college through increased knowledge and improved study skills and for the workforce through enhanced interpersonal skills. 

Further, students who participate in Academic Decathlon tend to score higher on standardized achievement tests and often see an increase in their overall grade point average when participating in AcaDeca throughout high school. 

Much of the student growth and achievement can be attributed to the team aspects of the program—working toward common goals, peer tutoring, individual goal setting, and improving overall study skills.

If you like this story and would like to be a part of making more of this work happen, we welcome your donations here.