Students from Chatfield have been participating in the Athletic Triathlon. Academic Triathlon provides an opportunity for kids to work in teams to academically compete for success.
Students from Chatfield have been participating in the Athletic Triathlon. Academic Triathlon provides an opportunity for kids to work in teams to academically compete for success. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/NEWS LEADER

Jodie Daniels’ kids are getting a four-C workout, and they know the stretchy brain: That’s where it’s AT.

“The first meet we had was a home meet in Chatfield on Dec. 8. We had wonderful volunteers to help make this meet successful. Chatfield Elementary has four Challenger teams of fifth and sixth graders made up of five students and one alternate, and we have added one Cross Trainer team of seventh graders for the remaining meets. Dover-Eyota, Lewiston-Altura and St. Charles all have teams that participate,” related Jodie Daniels, a teacher at Chatfield Elementary School (CES) and Academic Triathlon (AT) advisor.

She added that she was privileged to witness her students in action during the AT meet held at CES a month ago, the beginning of what she hopes will be a very fun mental workout for them.

Daniels explained, “There are three parts to an Academic Triathlon. There’s the face-off, both written and oral, with trivia in all of the subject areas, along with current events or pop culture. Mind-Sprints . . . teams complete three Mind-Sprints each meet. These can range from engineering challenges, word challenges, pattern challenges, teamwork challenges and more.”

Daniels also explained, due to the variety of the Mind-Sprints, it is very challenging to help the students prepare for these types of events. However, these are also one of the more enjoyable events for the students to participate in.

“Third is P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box,” Daniels continued, “and the teams receive a prompt and have to create a skit based on the prompt, with some very specific requirements that change each meet, depending on the prompt. Students are also limited only to the materials that are in their ‘box.’. They have 40 minutes to develop a plot, learn their lines, create their props, backdrops and scenery, and practice their performance. All of the teams then present so each of the teams and family can watch.”

The only portion of the meet coaches and parents can watch is the P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box presentation, unless parents are volunteering to judge the above portions of the meet.

“The only feedback we get as coaches is from the kids as to how they did, until the end of the night, when the results are shared,” Daniels said.

There are typically five to six teams per meet, and three different meets run simultaneously, she also explained.

“At our last meet, we had one team place second, and two tied for third. The challenging part is trying to find materials to prepare the kids in such a variety of different areas,” Daniels said.

Academic Triathlon is meant to meet the needs of students who have shown their passion for knowledge and intuition.

“Many of these students see academic success in the classroom daily,” Daniels said. “This provides the opportunity for conversations and development at a high level to help meet the needs of each student at their level and challenge them for continued success. The academic skills they gain are the most obvious…the students get to work together with very high-achieving students who share a passion for learning.”

Daniels also commented that the most beneficial components of Academic Triathlon are the development of the four Cs – critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.

She said, “This program is extremely rewarding for the kids. It is a place where students shine in lots of different ways. Some students know lots of random trivia that tends to come in handy. Some kids are very knowledgeable about specific subjects and can show their expertise in those areas. Because of their intelligence level, some of the students work really well independently and oftentimes prefer this.”

Academic Triathlon also provides an opportunity for the kids to work in teams to academically compete for success, Daniels added.

“If the students aren’t working together well, it shows in their scores at the meets,” she said. “The teams that work the best together oftentimes score really well on each of the three challenges of the meet. We continue to develop these skills at each of our practices. Before each meet, we dedicate one practice to a P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box simulation. At each practice, we work on trivia and brain teasers to develop those higher-level thinking skills.”

The teacher related that Academic Triathlon is entirely extracurricular for students.

“We are very fortunate to have students who are willing and excited to stay after school — after they have been learning all day — for another dose of academics, in a slightly different method,” Daniels said. “This group is willing to learn, tries hard and is very enthusiastic, which makes it so fun to coach.”

She continued, citing, “The program is so rewarding that at the beginning of the year, we didn’t have a Cross-Trainer team of seventh and eighth graders due to lack of finding an available high school coach. A group of students who were in AT last year advocated for themselves and asked if we would coordinate and coach their team, so they could compete again this year. That was remarkable, knowing how much fun they had in the past and how excited they were to continue to participate in this program again this year. We were thankful it all worked out.”

Daniels observed that Chatfield has a gifted and talented student program for children in elementary, and that the AT competition is just one part of that program.

Samantha Thorson, a third grade teacher, is also one of the co-advisors with Daniels for the fifth and sixth grade Gifted and Talented Development Program and the AT teams.

Kirsten Armstrong coaches the third and fourth Gifted and Talented Development Program as well.

“Coaching Academic Triathlon continues to solidify my belief that we need to provide opportunities for all kids to show growth and experience challenge,” Daniels said. “The challenge doesn’t always mean harder, more complicated text or problems, but more higher-level thinking and complexity to a situation. It is so fun to see the excitement for academic excellence and the continued desire to learn more.”

Future AT meets Chatfield was scheduled to participate in included one on Friday, Jan. 12, at Dover-Eyota Elementary School, followed by another on Feb. 5 at Lewiston-Altura. The regional meet will be in St. Charles on March 5. The state AT meet is in April.

Daniels concluded, “I would like people to know that all of the experiences and opportunities kids have at a young age — reading to them, trips, nature walks, high-level conversations — really do impact the kids in their future. We are trying to provide an opportunity outside of the school day to continue to stretch the brains of these kids. The teachers of Chatfield have done an excellent job fostering a love for learning and reaching kids at their independent learning level, which helps all kids become more successful. This is why we can have programs such as Academic Triathlon.”