GRANADA HILLS, Calif. – It’s a field trip for Granada Hills Charter School and these students are in for a treat. They’re about to watch a stage adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at A Noise Within in Pasadena, but Tamara Cruz isn’t here simply to enjoy a play.

A senior, she’s an Academic Decathlon National Champion and she’s here with the whole team to get another perspective on the required literature for this year’s competition.

“I’m really excited to see how the show turns out,” said Tamara. “You know, I don’t have much experience with the story of Frankenstein, but seeing it play out, I’m sure it will be like a really good in-depth experience of the story.”

Granada Hills Charter School won seven of the last nine years so they have a knack for winning, but it’s not as simple as filling the team with the smartest students.

Every team is composed of A, B, and C students and Tamara is one of the C-students. She may not have the best GPA, but Academic Decathlon reflects a real-world environment, and teamwork is where Tamara has found success.

“I’m hoping that doing decathlon again will allow me to have the same success I did last year, but most importantly I want to get the same growth I had out of the program and also make friends with my teammates,” said Cruz.

Academic Decathlon involves intense study and training covering science, literature, art, music, social science, economics and math and everybody is in it together. Math teacher Alina Lee is the head coach. 

“It’s not just that the A students are helping the C students learn more or understand the material more, but the C students bring their own unique personalities to our team,” said Lee. “Also just using different ways of learning is something I have found the C students bring to the table.”

Tamara isn’t sure which college she wants to attend yet so she’s focused on winning her 2nd National Championship with her team, but it wasn’t something she imagined herself doing in the first place. 

“I decided to do it because I knew it was something that could help me better myself in the future and it’s something I really enjoy doing, not only because of the friends I’ve been able to make, but because it’s allowed me to better myself as a person,” Tamara said. “My grades have gotten better, my social skills.”

Grades don’t make a better person, but the ability to do teamwork certainly does.