Should Haverford have more academic competitions?

Mathletes Colin Kelly ’23 and Jingyuan Chen ’23 prepare for the AMC test in January, 2020- Alexander Greer ’20

Academic clubs and activities are integral parts of the Haverford experience. Like athletics, achievements in academics can be validated through student performance in competitions. In the past year, participation in competitions dwindled due to the effects of the pandemic. As school life begins to normalize, clubs are reorganizing and preparing for competitions.

“Right now, the main focus of the math club is our Philly Math League, where we compete with other private schools from the area,” Math Club Teacher Advisor Mr. Jeremy Fus said. “We’ve got two more matches in the season, and we are doing well. Next week, we have our AMC competitions coming up. Later in the year, we have the modeling competitions, which usually take one or two full days.”

The Math Club, led by Mr. Fus and Mr. Bridge, endured through the pandemic with a vision to maintain past achievements and attract more student talent.

“I think what comes with participating in Math Cub is, you need to have a love, or at least an enjoyment, of math,”  Fifth Former Colin Kelly said. “For those of us that are seriously invested, we enjoy solving math problems. There’s an incredible satisfaction of getting something right and working out a problem. I would suggest that anybody who has that love and affinity for math and enjoys problem solving to come to the club.”

“We have one local tournament monthly, and two national tournaments this year at St. Joe’s and Penn, but it really depends on how many students show up and want to participate.”

MR. Javier Lluch

On the other end of the hallway, the Speech & Debate Team finds itself with needs to expand and more actively participate in various tournaments.

“We have one local tournament monthly, and two national tournaments this year at St. Joe’s and Penn, but it really depends on how many students show up and want to participate,” Speech & Debate Team Coach Mr. Javier Lluch said.

The students are hoping for more opportunities to develop and showcase their skills.

  “We’re doing pretty well in competitions, though we’ve only had one so far,”  Sixth Former and Speech & Debate Team Captain Adamya Aggarwal said. “More events will be good. Right now it’s a little hard just because of scheduling conflicts. But I think more events would allow debaters to practice and accumulate general experience.”

While Aggarwal affirms the current progress of the team, he also pinpoints the need to expand and attract more talent.

“The activity of debate fits the intellectual side of the school: expressing your opinions and finding good ways to argue them. But the debate team is one of the smaller clubs at our school, so maybe we just need to promote it more through showing people why argumentative skills are important life skills,” Aggarwal said. 

Mr. Lluch agrees with this assessment. He aims to accumulate talents through setting up debate activities in the middle school to foster early student interest. 

“We hope that we can actually begin working with middle schoolers this year,” Mr. Lluch said. “There are a couple tournaments that take middle school kids, and the idea is to foster interests in the middle schools, so they will sign up for the upper school team.”

Looking back at the trends, Mr. Lluch admits that interest in competitive academic events has declined in recent years.

“When I came here in 2013, there was more of a culture of academic competitions. And we have seen that dwindle. What the reason for that is, I’m not sure. It’s a lot to ask for somebody to be involved in intense competitions.” Mr. Lluch said. “It was certainly not an intentional choice. Dr. Nagl made a point to celebrate students who participate in academic activities. When he made the comment nine years ago, he felt that we already did not emphasize on academic qualities enough.”

On the other hand, Mr. Nathan Bridge believes that the Math Club is on top of its game.

“What we’re doing is at the height of everything we’ve done so far,” Mr. Bridge said. “It’s never been more organized and more focused on tangible goals than it is now. Our math Philly math league is in its third year, and that’s getting bigger and bigger. We started off with only eight teams and now we have ten.”

“If we have more students competing, there will be more conversations about these [math] problems, and so more students will be able to learn new ways to solve a problem and thus be better in the future.”

Colin Kelly ’23

While some dislike the competitive nature of academic competitions, activities like Math Club and the Speech & Debate Team and the academic values they embody represent some essential school virtues.

“If we have more students competing, there will be more conversations about these problems, and so more students will be able to learn new ways to solve a problem and thus be better in the future,” Kelly said. “That is an experience you can only get from competing with more kids with different backgrounds. So I think [competing] is endlessly valuable.”

Author: Jingyuan Chen '23

Jingyuan Chen has written for The Index since 2019. His news piece “Inside the middle school construction project” and his opinion “What can the U.S. learn from Chinese media censorship?” each earned a Silver Key from the 2020 Philadelphia-area Writing Awards.