Tenacity Challenge, 2018 – A Day of Champions

March 30, 2018
Bedford School Superintendent Jon Sills welcomed Tenacity Challenge participants – Image (c) JMcCT, 2018 all rights reserved – Click to view larger image

By Julie McCay Turner

There’s always plenty for young people to do on weekends, but on Saturday, March 24 there was only one choice for the students entered in the 2018 Tenacity Challenge, a scholarship competition for Latino and African American youth begun seven years ago at Bedford High School.

Click here for links to all of Bedford Snapshot’s Tenacity Challenge image pages

Bedford’s Stellar Six tied for second place overall. Pictured (l-r)- Tatianna Parker, Monique Parker, Ny’Asia President, Adrianna Harris-Carvalho, Belen Ou and (not pictured, but part of the team) Tracie Lewis — Courtesy image, 2018 all rights reserved – Click to view larger image

Jon Sills, Bedford’s Superintendent of Schools, began the program according to an event press release, “[to] create a culture within our schools for students of color that fosters intellectual risk-taking and perseverance and builds academic capacity.” He credits a “great team of educators” who contributed to the program’s creation, the influence of efficacy advocate, Jeff Howard’s seminal work on African-American students and competition, and the groundbreaking work of Bedford faculty members who earlier created the inter-district Women in Science competition.

Teams from Arlington, Boston, Brookline, Burlington, Concord, Lexington, Lincoln-Sudbury, Lowell, Milton, Needham, Natick, Newton, New Bedford, Scituate, Sharon, Springfield, Taunton, Wayland, Weston, and Westwood arrived to join their Bedford host teams early in the morning.

The students had prepared by exploring Tenacity Challenge’s 2018 theme, Is Hate Speech Free Speech, and Should It Be Allowed on College Campuses?  They brought strong History Arguments, compelling Literature Analysis Performances, and dynamic murals that combined artistic strength and courageous statements. They also came prepared for the Quiz Bowl’s more concrete competition –  pure math, with a touch of scientific theory underlying some of the problems. (For a copy of the QuizBowl problems, please email [email protected])

Teams earned points in each category, and the overall winners earned scholarship awards. Bedford’s team, The Stellar Six, earned a second-place finish in the overall competition, tied with Lowell’s Free 49gents, and behind Natick’s “We Can’t Breathe” in first place. Hidden Minority of Westwood took third place overall.

The program and its scholarships are underwritten by EDCO, the Janey Fund, Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, the Bedford Education Foundation, Bedford High School, and First Parish in Bedford, Unitarian Universalist.


The day was bracketed by a pair of motivational speakers. Kyle Draper, a Bedford resident and host of Celtics Pre & Post Game Live on NBC Sports Boston, and David Johns, President Obama’s appointee as executive director of the White House initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, who currently serves as executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition.

During the morning gathering, Draper reminded students that “The game doesn’t end here. It doesn’t end in high school. It doesn’t end in college. It goes on through your life, and you’ve got to bring persistence, that tenacity.”

At the end of the day, Johns spoke of the students’ “obligation to finish college” in order to identify their individual passion and fully demonstrate their personal genius. He added that the life skills that brought the students to the Tenacity Challenge would be the ones they could rely on in the future. His challenge to “Show up, and show out,” was met by cheers and exuberant enthusiasm.


Jon Sills
Superintendent, Bedford School Department
What an amazing day- the culmination of literally thousands of hours of preparation on the part of the contestants, students who have learned how to turn their talent, tenacity, and collaboration into exceptional examples of research, analysis, problem-solving and creativity. One can’t help but be moved by their competitive spirit, their originality, and their intellectual risk-taking.

One huge shout-out to the 75 volunteers, 65 of them Bedford teachers, alumni and community members, who gave up their Saturday to make this event a success!  An extra thanks to State Representative Ken Gordon, Deputy Commissioner of Education Cliff Chuang, and Bedford Selectman Mike Rosenberg, for helping out!

And hats off as well, to all of the many other adults who supported the teams from their schools and whose love, as David Johns, our keynote speaker, said so eloquently, made all the difference in the world.

Heather Galante
Principal, Bedford High School
The Tenacity Challenge is a celebration of Bedford Public School’s commitment to closing the achievement gap.  The students who participated prepared diligently and thoughtfully.  As a school leader, I was impressed by their academic discovery around the topic of hate speech versus free speech.

Many students made the distinction that free speech disintegrates into hate speech when it is aggressive, targeted and provokes violence.  Some of the scholars spoke about real life experiences that they courageously survived.  Their voices were heard at the event on Saturday.

I am reminded that our future is in good hands with a younger generation who have found their voices and will move us toward a more unified and tolerant future.  It was an amazing and inspirational day for the students and the adults.

Akil Mondesir
Bedford METCO Coordinator
Saturday was such an amazing day and event. To see how the students constantly improve on the work that they presented this year from last was so transformative and enlightening. I am truly blessed to see how this idea that started 7 years ago is creating such change and excitement for the kids.

I would like to thank all the students who were willing to take risks and push the envelope of this challenge. Would like to thank the advisors, administrator, Superintendents who believed that this challenge is important and continue to allow the kids to showcase their talents.

I would like to thank my Fraternity Brothers from Phi Beta Sigma Omicron Chi Sigma, all the volunteers, community leaders, teachers, guest speakers, members from DESE, custodial staff, news outlets and the tech department of Bedford Public Schools who donated time and resources to ensure that the day was successful.

Sean Hagan
Art Program Director for the Bedford Schools
Once again, teams from across the state have put their artistic merits on display with their “Hate Speech vs. Free Speech” themed murals. Each year it seems the quality of the murals are elevated, and not just in the content and artistry, but in the care, craft and thoughtful exhibition of the pieces as well.

I remember just a few short years ago when teams would show up with a roll of Kraft paper and duct tape. Now we are seeing more stretched canvases, three dimensional work and even murals that require electricity; it’s been a fantastic evolution.

Kevin Tracey
Principal, John Glenn Middle School
What an energizing event to witness!  In respect to the history finals, which I judged, each year I am more and more impressed with the incredible high level of analysis of complex historical and current relevant issues.  This year’s presentations were outstanding.

The art component, in which students are asked to visually represent their team’s position on Free vs. Hate speech, has evolved exponentially from banners to true artwork over the past seven years.  I was amazed with the talent and power of the works.

In all, from the literacy analysis to the history to artwork to the always exciting math/science bowl, this year’s high school Tenacity Challenge was a must-see display of academic prowess.  I am so proud of the participating competitors and their coaches.  They should all be commended for their hard work and dedication to making this annual competition a success.

Now, on to the Middle School Tenacity Challenge on April 28th!

Sarah Dorer
Gifted & Talented Coordinator, Lane School
That all students can succeed, and shine, in their academics given whatever supports they may need is a core belief. However, the students need to take some responsibility for their own learning as well.

I am continually impressed with the high quality of work by the veteran Tenacity teams. In modeling excellence, they are paving the way for the newer teams.

I have seen much improvement from [Tenacity Challenge’s] earlier years, and love the fact that students are asking about how they can do better. I congratulated a group of girls on their willingness to try something new and they asked how they could improve on their History performance for next year. I love that they are already thinking ahead to next year.

Bedford should feel proud of its role in creating this academic competition.

Mike Rosenberg
Bedford Selectman
What a privilege it was for me to be involved with Tenacity Challenge.

As a scorer in the math and science competition, I had to fully concentrate on my responsibilities, because the gym pulsated with intellectual energy and competitive spirit. I am so proud to be associated with this transformative event, and even prouder to be part of the host community.


First Place: Natick ~ We Can’t Breathe
Second Place: Lowell ~ Free 49gents
Third Place: Westwood ~ Hidden Minority

First Place: Lowell ~ Free 49gents
Second Place: Bedford ~ The Stellar Six
Third Place: Westwood ~ Hidden Minority

First Place: Natick ~ We Can’t Breathe
Second Place: Lincoln-Sudbury ~ America’s Future
Tie/Second Place: Weston ~ Black Radiance

Quiz Bowl
First Place: Natick ~ We Can’t Breathe
Second Place: Bedford ~ The Stellar Six
Tie/Second Place: Lowell ~ Free 49gents

Overall – Scholarship Winners
First Place: Natick ~ We Can’t Breathe
Second Place: Lowell ~ Free 49gents
Second Place: Bedford ~ The Stellar Six
Third Place: Westwood ~ Hidden Minority

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