Academic News

2021 Adelaide Sanford Institute Oratory Contest


ASI HS Level Winner: Jennifer Rodriguez, 10th Grade                                                                                             

PHS Runner-Up: Christna Lafaille, 10th Grade                                                                                             

PHS Coach: Ms. McMillan                                                                                             


This year, Progress High School entered the Adelaide L. Sanford Institute Oratory Contest for the first time in the competition’s 15-year history. The contest provides a forum for students to develop presentation skills, poise, self-confidence, and a positive competitive spirit. Participating students are required to memorize famous speeches of noted national and international leaders. In the process, they acquire knowledge of life-changing benchmarks in the history of the nation and the world. 


  • Part of ASI’s mission is to address the alarming disparities in education and quality of life that impact a large segment of Central Brooklyn residents, which includes our student population. More information about the contest can be found on the Sanford Institute website:

In January, students were invited by their teachers to participate in the program, which was being conducted virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students were required to learn about the organization, memorize and recite the speech Barack Obama’s Eulogy for John McCain, which was randomly selected by ASI. Students and their coaches would then record the students' performance to submit to the organizers to be judged for the final competition. The contest required each school to choose two finalists, one winner and one runner-up, to represent their school at the district level.


  • The contest, which ran from January through May, concluded on May 26 naming Progress High School's orator, Jennifer Rodriguez, as the overall winner at the district High School level, ahead of the second-place winner, Brooklyn High School for Law and Technology. 

Jennifer Rodriguez - Winner of the2021 Adelaide L. Sanford Insitute Oratory Contest
  • Executive Director Richard Connelly of the American Debate League has awarded all school winners and runners-up a scholarship to the American Debate League summer program "Leaders of Tomorrow" -


  • Winners, runners-up and coaches have been awarded certificates and trophies denoting their achievements in the 2021 Adelaide L. Sanford Institute Oratory Contest.


Ms. Debbrah McMillan, Coach (ELA Teacher):                                                                                             

Congratulations to all the winners and participants of this amazing contest! Special thanks to our own orators and this year’s champions, Jennifer Rodriguez and Christna Lafaille, whose dedication and commitment have earned them a well-deserved victory. I am immensely proud of all the hard work and commitment each student exhibited during these challenging months. While I’m never surprised at their achievements, I'm in awe of our students' resilience and determination to succeed, despite the odds. It's been a challenging year, but they've given me so much hope and brought me so much joy. It gives me great hope for the future to be associated with such talented, dedicated young people who understand the value of programs such as this oratory contest. I’m grateful to our Progress High School faculty for their continued support of our students, and to our Principal, Dr. Pena, and our AP, Humanities, Mr. Smith for the opportunity to participate in this invaluable work in support of our school community. And, I’m also extremely grateful to ASI for providing our students with this forum for their creative expressions and confidence-building as they re-enter the world after a challenging year spent mostly in isolation.

ASI HS Level Winner: Jennifer Rodriguez, 10th Grade                                                                                             

My name is Jennifer Rodriguez, I am currently 16 years old and a sophomore attending Progress High School for Professional Careers. I decided to participate in this year’s annual "Adelaide L. Sanford Oratory Contest" because I saw it as a way of challenging and improving my speaking skills to where it can benefit me in using them in my everyday life. After competing in the competition, something I learned about myself was how much power I hold in what I say, the way I say something and the poise that I gained in my speaking. I found it to be a very good trait I have attained after competing. After the long and hard-working journey, my coach and I have gone through, I must admit that I did enjoy every aspect of it and wouldn't mind doing this again! If I can share one thing with my peers about the Adelaide L. Sanford Oratory Contest, it is that if you are looking to develop presentation skills, poise, self-confidence, and a positive competitive spirit, this competition is the one for you. It can help you in the long run with any career you wish to pursue. See it as an opportunity to shine and represent your true self!

Jennifer Rodriguez PHS ASI Oratory Contest Winner 2021.jpg
PHS Runner-Up_ ASI Oratory Contest.jpg

PHS Runner-Up: Christna Lafaille, 10th Grade

Salut, my name is Christna Lafaille, I am 15 years old and currently a sophomore at Progress High School. This year I decided to take part in the  "Adelaide L. Sanford Oratory Contest” with the help from my coach. I always wanted to expand my speech in the English language, as it is my third language. This competition helped a lot. I learned to push and motivate myself, commitment was key. I had to learn discipline. Being patient and trusting myself was new territory. Going forward, I am excited to participate in the contest to share my knowledge from a peer-to-peer point of view. And to my peers; It's not hard to make decisions once you know your values. Trust that you’re worth it even when you think you're lost. This opportunity was life-changing in ways some may not understand. I took the time that I spent with Ms. McMillan to heart as we navigated the words of former President Obama. It taught me that if you don't believe in yourself when you're down, then you’re not going to get up and thrive.