“The road to success is lined with many tempting parking places.”
Essay responses by Morada Middle School’s eighth-grade Academic Pentathlon team members that included quotes like this helped propel them to the top of the writing event at this year’s annual countywide competition. It was held May 5 in Manteca, and Morada Middle was the only school in Lodi Unified School District that competed.
Although another school took the top prize, longtime English teacher and coach Paula Ogden couldn’t be more proud of her students on the green team, who stayed after school the last seven months studying for the annual event.
They swept the writing competition, going home with 17 of the 20 available medals.
“Although we weren’t a dominating school, we were a dominating school in writing,” Ogden said, adding that she still has the 1,000 practice essays the group wrote.
What makes Morada’s success so sweet, according to their teacher, is it is a Title 1 school with 80 percent of its students receiving free and reduced lunch based on household income.
“The perception is most low-income schools can’t write, they can’t read,” she said. “Being a Title 1 school, I have always instilled in my students the notion that you don’t have to have money to buy a brain; you were gifted one at birth. How you care for it and nurture it is totally up to you.”
The pentathlon includes written tests in language and literature, essay writing, mathematics and social science, and culminates in the Super Quiz, a team event held before a live audience. The Super Quiz this year was science-related.
There were 33 teams of seventhand eighth-grade students.
In the writing competition, all participants were invited to respond to 20 different quotes provided as prompts, with only two of these quotes selected on the day of the competition.
From the prompt, students were expected to write a five-paragraph essay, first explaining the universal meaning of the quote and then connecting it to literature, contemporary or historical figures and then to their own lives, and ending with a philosophical extension of the truth contained within the quote — all this within 30 minutes.
“It was an important realization within this tight-knit group, that no one medal completely belonged to an individual, as little pieces of every writer existed within each essay written,” Ogden said. “These students lent each other ideas, suggestions and feedback as they spent seven long months pre-writing and rewriting each prompt.”
In addition to the writing category success, Morada’s eighth-graders took home three plaques, two individual honors ($100 savings bonds) and 66 individual medals for all combined categories.
It was the first year the school also sent a seventh-grade team, known as the silver team.
They clinched a first place overall plaque for new teams in their division and a third place overall plaque for their green team. Additionally, Tina Vuong placed in the top 10 of all grade level participants and took home a $100 savings bond.
The eighth-grade team also had an individual top 10 student; Andrew Moton received a savings bond as well.
The team took every single gold medal awarded within the team structure with no ties going to any of the other participating schools, according to Ogden.
She said Meredith Davis, a longtime pentathlon coordinator, commented that she didn’t think that they ever had an essay score as near to perfect as Kuljit Sahota’s, whose essay scored a 49 out of 50 and was awarded the honors gold medal for her efforts.
Other participants included Laarni Castro, Breannah Rueda, Angela Vang, Micky Murarik, Patrick Tham, Kevin Mercado, Lue Lee, Trinidad Parada, Jessica Pineda, Linda Nguyen, Hieu Dao-Tran, Mo’ce Richardson, Alicia Eam, Christopher Cabana, William Xiong, Le Huang, Carlos Casillas, Dung Ho, Makayla Wesson, Kathy Nguyen, Marissa Alavizos and Jeremy Seng.
In addition to serving as their pentathlon writing coach, Ogden has been their English instructor for the past two years.
“My priority has always been writing and I guess that is why am so sickeningly proud of them,” she said.
As a site experiment by the principal, Ogden has taught the students as both seventhand eighth-graders.
Those interested in being on the pentathlon team learn that curriculum after regular school hours three days a week beginning in October. Many eighth-graders stayed four days a week to double up on science.
“Thus, it is a rarity to beat such well-funded schools as Rio Calaveras, who are able to integrate all of the pentathlon curriculum into their regular classrooms,” Ogden said of this year’s winning school. “Their teams were again the big overall winners this year, but Morada was the little green and silver engine that could.”
Ogden said she cannot describe in words how much the competition outcome means to them.
“These eighth-graders ... are some of the most dedicated students I have ever taught, and I’ve been around awhile. I’m so proud of them, I could just cry. I’ve told them since the beginning of the year, you don’t have to be rich to be strong,” she said.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.