Ninth Annual Tenacity Challenge Grapples with Racism, Reparations, and the 2020 Elections

Bedford’s Superintendent of Schools Jon Sills (l) and METCO Director Akil Mondesir, with a plaque commemorating all nine years of the L&A2 Tenacity Challenge, begun by Sills and now renamed the Jon Sills L&A2 Tenacity Challenge (Click to view the image at full size)

For the first time since its inception, the L&A2 Tenacity Challenge, could not be held in person. Undeterred, however, by the limitations of the Covid-19 pandemic, Bedford High School virtually hosted its annual academic scholarship competition for Latino and African-American high school students from urban and suburban districts across Massachusetts.

Even with the limitations resulting from a mid-semester shift to on-line learning, teams from Framingham, Lowell, Methuen and Newton North, in their determination to compete in the ninth annual challenge collaborated and prepared remotely to present arguments and analyses on this year’s theme – Racism, Reparations, and the 2020 Elections.

The competition commenced with opening remarks from Akil Mondesir, METCO Director, who applauded the students for the tenacity already exhibited with the challenges of remote learning. Mr. Mondesir spoke of the importance and timeliness of this year’s theme in the wake of the recent murder of George Floyd, the 911 call falsely accusing Christian Cooper, a bird watcher in the park, of threating harm to a white woman and other atrocities against black and brown individuals. He also shared his excitement in hearing the students’ perspectives on this past and present topic, paraphrasing Horace Mann’s quote – “Education is the great equalizer of the conditions of men”.

The literature challenge required students to select from among six novels and describe how their chosen novel addressed the experience of slavery and its personal, historical , and cultural legacies. Students submitted their responses to a panel of judges, before the event, and teams with the top four literature analyses scores moved on to present their rationale virtually. Two teams illustrated their analyses of the novels The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and The Water Dancer through poems and the other two teams performed skits to support how Kindred and Homegoing addressed the slavery experience. All very profound presentations.

Preparations for the history challenge included interviews with political representatives, economic experts and other relevant subject matter experts, as students created arguments on the issue of whether or not reparations to the descendants of slaves should be a focus of the 2020 presidential elections. Teams were asked to consider the existence of a historical and moral justification for reparations; identify the rationale for and the form of reparations, if supporting the measure; present the rationale if against reparations; and discuss the impact to the presidential candidates if the issue is included in the elections. Following submission and review of team arguments, prior to the event, the five teams with the top scores moved on to virtually present their theses. The presentations were informational, thought-provoking and just phenomenal overall.

The Math Quiz Bowl was comprised of four twelve-minute rounds with five questions in each round. Each team was assigned to a virtual breakout room with a proctor. Students relayed their answers to the proctor who submitted the form to the scorer, after each round.

While the Science and Mural components had to be excluded this year, we look forward to their return at the tenth annual Jon Sills L&A2 Tenacity Challenge. As previously reported, the challenge, begun by Mr. Sills in 2011, will be renamed in honor of the Superintendent’s retirement. Mr. Sills was visibly emotional as Mr. Mondesir surprised him with a plaque of the t-shirts, traditionally presented to event participants, and announced the name change.

The challenge concluded with closing remarks and the results from Superintendent Sills.

2020 Tenacity Challenge Results

Literature

  • First Place (Tie) – The Liberators, Lowell and Team Tigres, Newton North
  • Second Place – Fly High, Framingham
  • Third Place – Ranger Changers, Methuen

History

  • First Place (Tie) – The Liberators, Lowell and The South Tribe, Lowell
  • Second Place – Team Determined, Newton North
  • Third Place – Team Tigres, Newton North

Quiz Bowl

  • First Place – Team Tigres, Newton North
  • Second Place – Dynamic Energy, Lowell
  • Third Place (Tie) – The Liberators, Lowell and Team Determined, Newton North

Overall

  • First Place (Tie) – Team Tigres, Newton North
  • Second Place – The Liberators, Lowell
  • Third Place – Dynamic Energy, Lowell

The 9th Annual L&A2 Tenacity Challenge and its scholarships were underwritten by the Janey Fund Charitable Trust, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., First Parish in Bedford, the Bedford Education Foundation, the Bedford High School Parents Association and the Community Nursery School.

Reflections

Jon Sills, Superintendent Bedford Public Schools
I am so proud of, and grateful to, the amazing Bedford team for pulling off a virtual Tenacity Challenge during this crisis. While much smaller than the 200 plus students who had prepared for the high school Tenacity Challenge this year, the event was powerfully moving, and I want to give a shout out to the teams, students and coaches, that decided to compete in this virtual environment. The recent murder of George Floyd and all that it represents tells us that we need programs like the Tenacity Challenge more than ever. The poem created and performed by the Lowell Liberators team is one outstanding example of the too often untapped brilliance of high school students of color, and of the power of relevant and rigorous academic challenges to give our students the opportunity to shine! As for the surprise visit to my home during the event and the tribute that I received, all I can say is it is too much, but thank you from the bottom of my heart…none of this would be possible without our profoundly dedicated and capable Bedford team and the former METCO directors who, though in other districts, continue to contribute to the yearly work.

Heather Galante, Principal Bedford High School
I am always so impressed by the dedication and commitment put forth by all teams who participate in the Tenacity Challenge. Students’ willingness to tackle important topics in a deep, meaningful, and creative manner is so inspiring. I always leave the competition feeling as if our future is in very capable hands. This year, the Tenacity Challenge was dedicated to Jon Sills, our Superintendent, who is a champion for equity and is deserving of such an honor. He has served as a role model for so many and his legacy of hope, commitment, and scholarship will live on in the Tenacity Challenge for many years to come.

Kevin Tracey, Principal Bedford Middle School
This year’s high school Tenacity Challenge was especially inspiring and powerful. The competitors showed immense courage as they thoughtfully and passionately shared their literature and history responses set in the context of rising racial tensions nationally. And, they displayed unbelievable “tenacity’’, in the truest sense of the word, having to prepare for this year’s competition remotely. The students and their coaches should be incredibly proud. As is one of the yearly outcomes for me from the Tenacity Challenge, even though we were not physically “together”, we all certainly felt connected at a time when we, as a community, struggle to find reasons to celebrate. These kids deserve all of the praise. They were amazing.

Akil Mondesir, METCO Director Bedford School District
I would like to thank the students for an amazing day and work that they put into the challenge. They have as in years past, shown that they can take a history prompt and make it their own. And despite all they had to endure they continued to show themselves as tenacious with their ability to overcome any obstacles that lay in their way.

I want to thank Superintendent Jon Sills for believing in this challenge and seeing the vision nine years ago. As well as wishing him a Happy Retirement from Bedford. The work isn’t done… we have only just begun.

See everyone at next year’s Tenacity Challenge.

Patrick Morrissey, Math Program Administrator
As the organizer of the Tenacity Challenge Quiz Bowl, I look forward to this event all year long and it is the highlight of my academic year. Usually, I am in the gymnasium prepping for the quiz bowl or working as the official scorer so it is rare that I get to see the student presentations. This year, however, being online I was able to watch some of the student performances which were incredibly powerful, complex, and moving, and I was glad we were able to showcase and honor the students’ work. In Zoom, going from room to room and then watching the Bedford TV YouTube video afterward I was very impressed by the teamwork in solving the high-level math questions. Students reasoned through the problems and explained their thinking to each other.  Here is an excellent example of problem-solving, which Newton North’s Team Determined creatively solved as time was expiring.

A special thanks to Kim Comeiro and Kristen Tracy, Bedford’s Instructional Coaches, who were instrumental in making the event, and especially the Quiz Bowl, run so smoothly.

See you all next year for the 10th Annual Jon Sills’ Tenacity Challenge!

 


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