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A Decade of Success and a National Reputation

Middle school students from Omaha Public Schools have earned a national reputation for their academic excellence.

For the 10th year in a row, students from McMillan Middle will represent Nebraska at the United States Academic Pentathlon. McMillan’s seventh and eighth-grade teams scored highest in the region after competing at the local and state level. They have won third place nine times in the national pentathlon.

“They know when we go to nationals, there’s a good chance they’re going to see the McMillan name pop up in the top three,” shared Eric Hagen, a social studies teacher at McMillan and the Academic Pentathlon coach. 

Teams compete to earn the highest grade in rigorous multiple-choice exams on literature, math, fine arts, science and social sciences. Questions revolve around the year’s theme – “Water: A Most Critical Resource.” The Academic Pentathlon is more than just taking tests. Teams also compete by delivering speeches, writing essays and interviews.

Jasmine Hester, a member of the seventh-grade team, appreciates what she’s learned through competing in the pentathlon.

“I like how expansive it is,” Hester explained. “It can range from all the topics in the guides, and you can add even more information. It’s been interesting to learn, and [the competition] expands your knowledge.”

“We run it like an honors program and teach it as a class, which is why we’re so successful,” Hagen said. “We use the guides which read like college textbooks. It’s really challenging.”

The global pandemic added new challenges, canceling the 2020 national pentathlon entirely. In 2021, students prepared to travel to California before the national competition shifted to an online event. The event also moved online after plans to attend in-person in Arizona this year.
“It was a major motivation to study,” said Cara Travis, a member of McMillan’s eighth-grade team. “Even without being able to travel, it was still really fun to hang out with friends and build better bonds.”

Despite the disappointment, McMillan’s Academic Pentathlon teams are proud of their achievement.

“We all have different things we are good at,” added Sadie Larkin, another member of the eighth-grade team. “We wrote down our individual scores and studied more on the things we were not good at, which helped us test better.”

“It’s a team thing,” said Travis. She and her team scored the highest out of all teams in the central region. “I feel like all of us as a team had to cooperate and work together to get that number one spot.”

The McMillan teams will compete virtually at the United States Academic Pentathlon on May 20.

“During one of the most challenging years, McMillan students triumphed," remarked McMillan’s principal, Monica Green, Ph.D. "I appreciate the commitment of our coaches and am so proud of our students."