Denair Middle School places 6th in Academic Pentathlon

Led by three-time medalist Chris Torres, Denair Middle School finished sixth Saturday in the 19th annual Academic Pentathlon competition.

The event is organized and hosted by the Stanislaus County Office of Education in Modesto. It tests students on math, fine arts, literature, science and social science. There also are speech and essay tests, plus an exciting Super Quiz competition to wrap up the day.

Students are broken up into three divisions – Varsity, Scholastic and Honors – based on their grade-point averages.

Torres, an eighth-grader competing in the Varsity category, won the most medals of anyone on Denair’s team. He took third in math, fourth in social science and fifth in fine arts. This year’s success capped an impressive two-year run for Torres, who won four medals in 2023.

Denair’s other medalists this year were Juliette Conde (bronze in Honors social science), Daniel Gomez (bronze in Scholastic social science) and Alberto Zatarian (bronze in Scholastic science). Conde’s medal was the first in the Honors division by any Denair competitor in Roxi Lagos’ four years as the team’s coach. She also received a plaque for earning the most points on the team.

“I think we did excellent,” Lagos said. “The thing I was most proud of is that my students showed excellent sportsmanship during the awards ceremony, not only for their teammates but also for the students from other schools.”

The 20 members of Denair’s team began practicing daily in August during their third-period class with Lagos. Denair is the only school to offer a special class for Academic Pentathlon participants. In all other school districts, students squeeze in practices before or after school, during lunch periods or even on the weekends.

The theme of this year’s competition was “Technology and Humanity,” and questions in all the categories involved computers and other aspects of technology. One of the highlights during Denair’s preparation, Lagos said, was a field trip the students took in December to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Lagos said the students worked hard to prepare for the event. Practice consists of a mix of independent reading and note-taking as well as teacher-led instruction in some areas. 

There are also team-building activities. In November, the students hosted a Friendsgiving potluck. And in March, they welcomed back the eighth-graders from last year’s Academic Pentathlon team (students who are now freshmen next door at Denair High) to offer tips and advice on the competition.

“They got to hang out and ask each other questions,” Lagos said of the March reunion.

Here is the full list of Denair’s team members, with the student’s year in school in parentheses:

Avery Andrion (7), Alexa Colon (7), Juliette Conde (7), Eli Daniel (7), Daniel Gomez (7), Ashton Homen (8), Isaac Lagos (8), Logan Lagos (7), Taylor Leib (7), Jude Moody (8), Julia Reynolds (7), Luke Scalph (7), Kaycee Shriver (8), Chris Torres (8), Joplin VanGaalen (8), Zoey Vrioni (7), Logan West (8), Makenah Wideman (8), Blake Wood (8) and Alberto Zatarain (8).

“It was our biggest team yet,” Lagos said, “and we hope to grow it next year.”

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