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Television game show gets Bronx students buzzing

Quick. What’s the larger root of P in the equation P2 + 6P + 8 = 0? Which connects the kidney and bladder, the aorta or ureter? Who was Don Quixote’s faithful friend?

Negative two. Ureter. Sancho Panza. Now wipe the sweat from your brow. You’ve experienced The Challenge, Cablevision’s academic quiz show.

The Challenge’s new season premiered Saturday, November 8 at 6:30pm on News 12. Bronx 2007-2008 champions All Hallows High School faced Peace & Diversity Academy.

“I always tell the kids, ‘Our strategy is to know absolutely everything,’” Matthew Gaynord, a math teacher and All Hallows’ The Challenge advisor, said. “Because you never know what the host is going to ask.”

In 2008-2009, sixteen Bronx teams will compete for a shot at Brooklyn’s best and New York City bragging rights. Yeshiva of Flatbush eliminated All Hallows last year, advancing to show’s Tri-State finals.

The Challenge features students from Long Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Westchester-Hudson Valley and Bronx-Brooklyn high schools.

“The great thing about the show is that the kids answer academic questions,” said Cablevision Vice President for Education Trent Anderson. “It’s not trivia. It’s high school subject matter.”

Cablevision first produced The Challenge for Long Island. The show has expanded to include almost 180 high schools and remains unique after 12 years.

“Football players get Friday nights. What about academic achievers?” Anderson said. “We’re proud to celebrate these kids publicly.”

Seth Miran, another math teacher, is Peace & Diversity’s The Challenge advisor.

“I’m so proud of the kids,” he said. “All kids want to know how smart they are. The Challenge is a neat chance for them to prove it – to themselves and others.”

Here’s how The Challenge works. Teams of five contend every other week. The students answer multiple choice and free response questions, racing to buzz in.

There’s also a lightning round – each team fields ten questions in less than one minute. Points are awarded for correct answers and the team with the most points wins. A loss equals elimination.

Cablevision asks each high school to pick a team. Some schools hold tryouts. Other schools target math or history whiz kids. There’s no grade barrier – even freshman are allowed to participate.

More than 50 students auditioned for Gaynord’s team this fall. He picked five seniors. They drill after school twice a week. Three sophomores and two juniors are Peace & Diversity’s team.

“It’s fun,” 15-year old Demi Jacobs, who also plays basketball, said. “I knew my teammates from before. Practice is like hanging out almost.”

During the show, students respond to questions grouped by category. When All Hallows met Yeshiva of Flatbush this spring, categories included “Quadratic Equations,” “Excretory Systems” and “Mountains.” News 12 anchors deliver the questions. In the Bronx, it’s Heather McBride.

“The kids are fearless, poised and articulate.,” Anderson said. “They always deliver.”

Cablevision encourages each team to bring a cheering section – parents, teachers and peers – into News 12’s professional studio.

“It’s a big space with a green room and lights everywhere,” Anderson said. “The kids’ eyes get big when they see all the cameras.”

The show’s Bronx, New York City and Tri-State finals will air next June. All Hallows squeaked past Dewitt Clinton High School for the borough crown last year.

“The kids have put in a lot of hard work,” Miran said of his Peace & Diversity squad. “I expect great things from them this year and in years to come.

All Hallows’ academes now enjoy a measure of celebrity.

“Everybody in the school knows about The Challenge,” Gaynord said. “It’s a morale booster.”

News 12 will replay the premier Saturday, November 15th at 6:30pm and Sunday, November 16th at 9:30pm.

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