Anacostia Returns to “It’s Academic”
“Wyoming,” Tevin Johnson, 15, quietly whispered to Malcolm Ware, 16, on a recent Saturday morning as they sat with audience members of “It’s Academic,” in WRC-TV’s studio in upper NW Washington. “It’s Academic” is the longest continuously running television quiz show ever according to The Guinness Book of World Records.
“Mississippi,” answered the team on stage.
“No, I’m sorry. Cheyenne is the capital of Wyoming,” said Mac McGarry, the show’s host for every one of its fifty years. McGarry has challenged more than 20,000 contestants and asked more than 200,000 questions in his years as host.
Tevin and Malcolm, members of the Academies at Anacostia’s “It’s Academic” team exchanged reassuring glances, indicating their unspoken confidence that they will not be intimidated or unprepared when Anacostia makes its first appearance on the show in seven years.
While students, teachers, principals, and, even, chancellors have come and gone over the past half-century within the city’s school system, “It’s Academic” has remained a constant.
“It’s Academic is now a community institution with many schools doing their own spin-offs and off-air tournaments. It has seeped into the culture,” says Susan Altman, daughter of Sophie Altman, the creative spirit of the show more than a half century ago. “People respond to competition as it encourages a quest for knowledge.”
Math teacher, Ryan Benjamin, is the genesis of Anacostia’s return to “It’s Academic.” After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, majoring in Urban Studies and Spanish, Benjamin applied for the DC Teaching Fellows program.
“I find the paradox of a city with such power and the poverty that surrounds it both fascinating and unacceptable, and I wanted to come here to try to bridge both worlds,” says Benjamin.
“When I saw ‘It’s Academic’ on television after I moved to DC, I had an epiphany: What if I could get my students on that show?” said Benjamin.
Last June, Anacostia gained local and national attention when First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, delivered Anacostia’s 77th Commencement Address at Constitution Hall to the Class of 2010. She had previously visited the school of more than 800 students on 16th Street SE earlier in the school year. At times, First Lady Obama was emotional when recalling Anacostia’s past, such as Frederick Gregory, Class of 1958, who became the first African-American commander in NASA’s history.
After securing buzzers through a grant and recruiting students from his classroom who showed a natural proclivity for trivia, Benjamin and assistant coach Brianna Copley, a special education and English teacher, contacted the producers who “were extremely excited” to hear from Anacostia.
Available records from “It’s Academic” indicate that Anacostia High School fielded a team from 1988 (the first year of the records) until 2004. In 1998, the team of Earl Curley, David Craddick, and Daryl Allan coached by Ms. Carolyn Roberts won their first round game, advancing to the playoffs.
“We are glad to have Anacostia back,” says Altman.
“The hard part has been building confidence and building knowledge. We started practicing once a week but now we practice every day,” says Benjamin. “We send our students home with fact sheets to memorize, and they come back prepared to compete.”
With three sophomores, Tevin, Malcolm, and 16 year old Eric Chavers, and 17 year old senior LaKiya Bailey making up Anacostia’s team, the students know they are not only representing their school, but their community.
“Our appearance will make a huge impact and open the door for others to follow,” said Malcolm, a member of JROTC, who has started watching Jeopardy and The History Channel as part of his preparation.
“The appearance on ‘Its Academic’ by the students, under the leadership of Mr. Benjamin and Ms. Copley, is a testament to their work. Our students have been increasing the number of activities which showcase their talents and boost their confidence,” says Donald L. Hense, Chairman of Friendship Public Charter School which has managed the Academies at Anacostia for the past two school years.
Anacostia joins Wilson, School Without Walls, and Banneker as the only other DC Public School to appear on the 2010-2011 season. Other schools to appear representing the District include Gonzaga, Maret, Georgetown Day, Sidwell Friends, St. John’s, St. Albans, and St. Anselm’s. Anacostia has recently partnered with Georgetown Day, winners of their first round game, to have friendly scrimmages.
Anacostia will face Osbourn Park (Manassas, Va.) and Islamic Saudi Academy (Alexandria, Va.) on February 5th with the show airing on March 12th. “It’s Academic” airs Saturday mornings on NBC4.