Jasper High School junior Calen Stewart poses with his second place trophy from the 2017 Chess SuperNationals. Stewart recently earned a perfect score of 36 on the ACT — a feat only a few students achieve each year.
Calen Stewart, 16, took the ACT, a standardized test for high school achievement and college admissions in the United States, in April for his third time and scored a 36. His two previous scores were a 31 and 34. When previously asked by Spanish teacher Kelly Whitaker what his goal for the year was, Stewart said he wanted to score a 36. After hearing that his most recent score at the time was a 34, Whitaker didn’t doubt that he would achieve this goal. “When he says he wants something, he goes after it,” she said. “I don’t doubt him. I’ll never doubt him.”
Gayle Crump, an assistant principal at Jasper High School, said that in the nearly three decades she’s been at the school, she doesn’t remember another student ever scoring a 36 composite.
According to data from 2016, Stewart’s score puts him in the 99.9585 percentile, which marks how Stewart’s score compares to others who have taken the ACT. This means he’s scored higher than a little over 99 percent of test-takers. Going into the test, “I was comfortable with all the sections,” Stewart said. “I felt really confident about it.”
He said that while he anticipated possibly making another 34 or even a 35, he didn’t expect the 36 — “to see the six, it just felt weird.” As far as what advice he’d give other students who are taking the ACT, Stewart encouraged them to not doubt themselves and know that they can do better and improve.
In addition to his outstanding ACT score, Stewart also won second place out of 490 players in his division of the High School Championship at the recent 2017 Chess SuperNationals in Nashville. He’s been playing chess for close to three years, beginning shortly before his freshman year. SuperNationals “is the biggest chess tournament in the world,” said John McGraw, a teacher at Jasper and sponsor of the school’s chess team.
The event is only held once every four years and this will be Stewart’s only opportunity to compete in it.
Stewart competed in the High School Division Under 1600 rating, which is designated as Class C under the U.S. Chess Rating System. The ratings are based on performance at previous events. According to Francisco Guadalupe, director of events for the U.S. Chess Federation, Stewart finished with six wins, including a victory against the top seed of that section, and one draw. Several of his matches lasted for three or four hours.
“His score of 6.5 out of 7 earned him the second place trophy in that section,” Guadalupe continued. “[Stewart] did very well, indeed. Based on his performance at this event, he moved from a Class C category to a Class B, with a post-tournament rating of 1665.” His pre-tournament rating was 1468. Stewart was slightly nervous when the tournament began but said that feeling didn’t last long.
“I think I was nervous but then as I played on, when I realized I wasn’t losing. That helped,” he said. “I think I played better as I went on through the tournament” and gained more confidence.
McGraw said that Stewart’s reserved personality also helps him excel at chess. “I’m sure he gets excited, but he keeps it all in,” McGraw explained. “His opponents can’t see it, and I think that helps him in his matches.” He added that the things Stewart and the others on the team work on to improve their chess game, including time management, problem solving and creative thinking, also help them in the classroom.
Stewart has a 4.4 grade point average and is in advanced placement classes. He’s also a member of the school’s scholar’s bowl team.
Aside from his own academics, Whitaker said that Stewart also helps other students. She said he recently explained to one of his classes how to work through science problems on the ACT. He is also going to tutor seventh- and eighth-graders this summer. “He’s intelligent, but he can still tutor. Most intelligent people can’t explain how they know what they know. [Stewart’s] got a really good personality, as far as teaching ability,” Whitaker said.
“He’s just so driven,” Crump added. “Anything he doesn’t know, he’s going to find out.” Once he graduates high school, Stewart hopes to be able to attend Princeton University. “It’s a top school. I was looking at mathematics and I heard they were really good for that,” Stewart said of his reasons for wanting to attend the school. “But I also learned that they have really good financial aid, if I were to qualify.”
His mother, Brooke Shubert, described him as very practical. She said he’s always excelled at everything he’s ever put his mind to and she’s extremely proud of him. Stewart described himself as being a little competitive, but added there’s more to what motivates him than just that. “When I’m good at something, I want to do it more and get better at it,” he explained. “I’m good at taking tests so I figure I should try to do the best I can.”
Adapted from article by LEA RIZZO, Daily Mountain Eagle