Middle school debate league gears up for its first tournament

Gilbert Middle Debate Team researches evidence

The organization will have its first competitive tournament in January.

By Topher Sanders | Story updated at 6:42 AM on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009


Matthew Gilbert Middle School
student Diva Sessions is learning how to develop and deliver an effective argument, but she’s also reinforcing her academic skills.

Diva, 14, is one of about 120 Duval County middle school students participating in the Duval Urban Debate League’s inaugural year.

The organization will host its first competitive tournament on Jan. 23 at Florida State College at Jacksonville‘s North Campus. The organization held a mock tournament in November.

Diva and her peers have been practicing four to six hours a week since October to hone their arguments and learn the skill of debate.

“It gives you great speech skills and confidence,” said Diva, who is in the eighth-grade. “At first you’re nervous, but when you get up there and start to speak … it reassures you.”

January’s tournament is one of three competitions before a championship in April.

Diva’s coach and language arts teacher, Emmanuel Fortune, said his debaters are benefiting academically from the league.

The students’ critical thinking skills, ability to organize complex issues and express their thoughts have all improved in the last three months.

Students study about 30 pages of research on a topic and learn to deliver arguments in favor or against a specific policy issue. They compete in teams of two.

This year’s national debate issue asks students to ponder whether the government should increase services for the poor.

The material brings students in contact with research by Harvard University professors and detailed government documents, which Fortune said introduces the students to a level thinking and writing well above what appears on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Debate instruction is proven to boosts academi...
Image by Blacksonville Community Network via Flickr

Darrell Perry, principal at Paxon Middle School, said he has seen anecdotal evidence of the program’s value at his school.

“It contributes to their literacy skills, they’re more attentive and they’re better listeners,” he said.

About 20 Paxon students participate in the league.

Diva said the program has helped her become a better researcher and has forced her to think about new and different issues.

“It’s research like you’ve never seen before,” she said, “because you don’t have time in school to look through government papers about food stamps. It’s really interesting.”

“Laying out an argument for a debate competition is very similar to the skills students need to be successful on portions of the FCAT,” Fortune said.

“I’m very happy to say that there are gains being made in the classroom as a result of what we’re doing in practice,” he said.

“The academic performance of students participating in debate will be tracked over the next five years to evaluate the program’s impact,” said Jermyn Shannon El, league developer and co-founder of the Blacksonville Community Network.

DUDL - Policy debate lessons and Tournament Pl...
Image by Blacksonville Community Network via Flickr

“The program is scheduled to expand to high schools next year,” Shannon El said, “but the league is still looking for sponsors and support to help its growth. Blacksonville is currently the league’s only financial sponsor.”

A fund-raising banquet will be held Jan. 21 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at The Impact Center at 7422 Atlantic Blvd.

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2 Responses to “Middle school debate league gears up for its first tournament”

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