DOWNEY, Calif. – South Pasadena High school teacher Oliver Vilacorza usually teaches history, but he recently just made history.
In the three short years since his arrival at South Pasadena, Vilacorza started the academic decathlon team and their rise to the top has been fast.
“We ask the students to really develop this culture of excellence in making sure that we don’t accept excuses” he said. “I think we’re blessed with great students and a great community.”
The LA County Office of Education honored Vilacorza and his team this week for becoming the first LA County school to place 3rd in the state championship in decades, allowing some members to compete in the national championships for the first time.
The students brought home 21 medals, including nine individual gold medals from the national competition.
“For his team to be invited to the national competition that was just unbelievable for the kids, as well as the coach. They have never had that happen before in our 30-some odd years existence in our county,” explained Susan Bishop, the events coordinator for the Office of Education.
“We’ve had an amazing supportive community, amazing coaches who just pushed us and an amazing team down here,” added senior John Dullaghan.
The Pampanga-born teacher who moved to Los Angeles at age 11 has also helped turn students into winners outside of the competition arena.
Before joining the team, Oscar Garcia was struggling in school with a 1.6 grade point average. Since joining the academic decathlon team, his 4.4 GPA has earned him a scholarship to prestigious Carnegie Mellon University.
“You meet a lot of people who are here for you, especially our coach who they really try to tell you what you can do and try to unlock your potential,” said Cortez.
“When I really thought about a career that can make an impact generations after generations what more other than teaching,” recalled Vilacorza.