A Group of Scholars Who Are Out of This World Are Reaching for the Stars


Academic Decathlon team along with the mentors and advisors.

Stephanie Vega, Social Media Editor

There’s a group that’s out of this world and they are reaching for the stars and writing history at South El Monte High School. That ladies and gentlemen would be the Academic Decathlon Team, also formerly known as ACADECA. 

Academic Decathlon is a nationwide program that promotes academic excellence and opens the opportunity for students to compete with other students and schools within their levels regardless of their GPA. The program is divided into three different levels and sections, which are determined by the students GPA which is recalculated using the ACADECA rubric. The three categories are : Varsity (for students who have a GPA between 0 – 2.99) , Scholastic (for students who have a GPA between 3.00 – 3.74) and Honors (for students who have a GPA between 3.74 – 4.0). 

South El Monte has had an Academic Decathlon team for a couple of years now previously directed by Mr. Castillo however, recently the math teacher Mr. Lopez has now become the director of SEM’s ACADECA team. This is his second year being in charge of the team. Mr. Lopez became the advisor of ACADECA because Mr. Castillo had been promoted to Director Of Student Affairs, and Mr. Castillo saw Mr. Lopez as a perfect candidate to continue the team. Lopez shared that preparing for the competition takes a lot of work and dedication. He elaborated that students “will begin studying in the beginning of the school year” and some during the breaks, like Thanksgiving and winter break through their study guides, which are provided at the beginning of the year. These packets (study guides) help simplify all of the sections that students need and will compete in. The sections are: Speech, Interview, Essay, Math, Economics, Science, Social Science, Literature, Art & Music. The first two sections that Mr. Lopez starts first with the Speech & Interview section so “students are able to get as much practice as possible.” He stated that the Interview section is one of the more challenging sections since it is improvised. Some of the questions that students will get asked in the interview section are, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “Tell me about yourself,” amongst others. He shared that for the preparation part of the speech section, he will assign students to write or say a speech and present it to the class, in order to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

The ACADECA mentor, Mr. Lopez, leading the mighty eagles to victory.

All of the intense preparation brings them to the big moment, the competition. The Academic Decathlon usually competes once a year, which is Regional but this year is different. The team shined their golden potential and talent at the regional competition which was held on January 28th, 2022. After the competition, the members had to wait three weeks until the ACADECA banquet to receive their results which was held mid- February. Out of the entire team, only nine students received medals because only three students from each category were able to compete for medals. Lopez shared that choosing three of the competitors for the Honors category was intense & difficult because every student in that category has undeniable potential to compete. In the end the three students that ended up competing in the Honors category were Ruben Carrazco, Anthony Trieu, and Vincent Vo. He said that what helped him choose the competitors for the Honors sections was comparing each person’s study skills. At the end of the banquet, Ruben Carrazco became the top competitor & Arturo Mercado brought the most medals, which was 8 medals in the Varsity Category. Arturo Mercado shared that he was “surprised about receiving 8 medals because I thought I’d receive 2 medals, if not 3 medals max.” He expressed that he did some intense studying especially in the Science, Social Science and Math sections and hoped to receive at least medals in the state competition. 

At the end of the banquet, the team was amazed with the news that they would qualify for state competition. This is news and history within itself because it is the first time that South El Monte High School goes to ACADECA state competition. 

The same nine members that competed in the regional competition will compete in State competition. The State competition is going to take place from March 23rd – March 26th in Santa Clara. Mr. Lopez is very content with the results from the banquet and shared that going to State is a huge milestone not only for ACADECA but also for South El Monte, and that he has Mr. Castillo to thank. “I have to thank Mr. Castillo because he’s been my mentor, and every accomplishment is his too.” He has set some goals for the state competition and stated that his goal is to bring a minimum of three or more medals. But before the competition Mr. Lopez wanted to highlight the success, hard work, and achievements of the team by spending a day at Disneyland. After the state competition he  would like to take the team to Six Flags Magic Mountain. Mr. Lopez wanted to thank, Ruben Carrazco, Anthony Trieu, Vincent Vo, Karen Donato, Variela Perez, Arturo Aguilar Salinas, Camila Ortega, Emiliano Gallegos, Mallory Spillard, Henry Liem, Berenice Benitez, Leah Acosta, Yvette Lopez, Giselle Ferrer, Natalii Reyes, and Daniela Valencia for all of their dedication and determination toward the Academic Decathlon team. 

As the year is coming to an end, Mr. Lopez has begun recruitment for next year. He has begun promoting the program during the morning announcements. He hopes to continue being the coach for years to come and hopes that students will continue to reach for the stars.