By Helen Penland
What is the real surprise? This debate team is from a Fort Lauderdale elementary school! The Broward County School Board, spearheaded by Board members Dr. Rosalind Osgood and Laurie Rich Levinson, introduced a pilot program in 2015 to include 12 elementary schools in debate lineups. Statistics show that adding such activities help increase confidence in the children and prepares them for middle school, high school, and college or work life. Kids are more likely to participate in these activities in later educational pursuits.
The School Board expanded the number of elementary schools to 30 participating this year. They chose under-performing schools, realigning teachers, principals, and other staff to achieve the outcome of increasing the schools’ performance. The Board also added optional activities, including the debate team. One of the schools was Walker Elementary School.
Under the leadership of Principal Philip Bullock, Walker Elementary showed a 95% improvement in academic achievement since the debate team began. Remarkably, there is a higher level of reading, writing, and communication skills.
Led by Debate Coach Yonel Aris and assistant Eloise Findlay there are 40 students are in the debate program but only 20 compete at this time. The remaining team members are learning and preparing for next year’s opportunities. Competitors range from 2nd through 5th grades.
Walker’s Debate Team has competed in four events and placed at least third place in Broward County elementary school categories; they placed first in an April 6th competition. The team was also invited to open the EdTalk event in November, where they discuss educational strategies.
Elementary school categories are different than middle and high schools:
Dramatic Interpretation is a single person category when a child gives at least a three-minute presentation of either three poems or section of a short story. The competitor performs a serious, published work.
Dual Interpretation is a two-student classification, also a minimum of three minutes long. Presentations may be dramatic, humorous, or a combination. Additionally, competitors must not touch or look at each other. Limited movement is permitted.
Congress Debates involve students emulating our United States Congress by debating bills and resolutions. Competitors are required to do research to support their choice of position and be prepared to respond to questions.
For more about Broward County School Board’s debate initiative, check their site at http://www.browardschools.com/debate.