Colorado AcademySpeech & Debate continues to expand, as Middle School students are now welcomed into the program. CA Director of Debate, Randall Martínez, has been actively recruiting students in Grades 6-8 and working closely with Dr. Jon Vogels to help train students in the various formats—with lunch meetings and time dedicated after school.
In October, CA showcased its new Middle School Speech & Debate program by hosting one of the largest tournaments in the Front Range—bringing in 65 competitors, representing seven schools, across three formats. As they arrived in Knowles, CA students and their counterparts from Dawson School, DSST: Conservatory Green, Frontier Academy, International School of Denver, Preston Middle School, and Summit Middle School were excited and nervous to participate in this first event.
About 30 members of the CA Upper School Speech & Debate Society managed all aspects of the tournament operations, including setting up the home base, running tabulations, judging participants, and hosting the awards ceremony. “It was a proud coaching moment, watching the students take ownership of the event,” says Martínez, who offered special shoutouts to Speech & Debate Society President, Senior Owen Tilman, Debate Captain Junior Helaina Korneffel, and Junior Graham Neely, who together led the tournament.
Middle Schoolers competed in three formats—at both the Novice and Varsity levels:
Original Oratory: where students give a speech on any topic that they write themselves;
Interpretation of Literature: where students perform a speech from an existing source;
Public Forum Debate: where teams of two compete on a topic specified in advance.
CA Sixth Grader RJ Andrews performs his Original Oratory speech on police brutality and stress and trauma on children of color.
Sixth Grader Darcy Simon says she was attracted to Speech & Debate because she enjoys performing, is a control freak, and loves to talk. Her Original Oratory speech focused on food insecurity, a topic that she had written about for class, but which she refined for the competition. “The judges were amazing,” she says. “They gave us great feedback, and I really felt like I did better in the third round because of the feedback I was given from judges in the first two rounds.”
Having judges disclose decisions and provide feedback immediately following a round was by design, says Martinez. “We did this intentionally to help model best practices nationally.”
Eighth Grader Jordan Slutzky, who won First Place in Original Oratory for her speech on animal testing, agrees that feedback was helpful. “The judges were great and so supportive,” she says.
CA Sixth Grader Emmaline Sprick performs her Interpretive speech, a scene from the TV show, “The Office.”
Emmaline Sprick, Grade 6, was the only CA student to compete in the Interpretation of Literature format, where she took Third Place. She says she was interested in “Interp” because she likes to act and wanted to select her own topic. For her piece, she chose an episode from “The Office” where Dwight selects the health plan. Impressively, she acted all the parts. “The thing I like most about Interpretation is that you can be dramatic and add your own touch to it,” she says. “I liked how you could decide on different voices and gestures.”
CA Seventh Graders Bennett Neely and Elliot Brown took Second Place in the Novice Public Forum Debate. The topic: Should the U.S. Government invest in high-speed rail? It is a fun issue, Bennett says, because people have strong opinions on both sides. He appreciates the improvisation and on-the-spot thinking he has learned in debate prep—valuable skills that he believes will serve him well in school and life.
Working on a team makes debate more fun, says Eighth Grader Jay Bhandari, who competed in the Varsity division. “With a partner, you can always support each other and joke around. It really lowers the amount of stress in the competition.”
A National Trend
With the impressive turnout among schools, some from as far away as Summit County and Fort Collins, Dr. Jon Vogels says there is clearly a need and desire for this sort of opportunity for Middle School students. “The competition was strong, especially in the Varsity Public Forum debate rounds,” he says. “There were middle schoolers who would definitely hold their own even against high school competition. They knew the high-speed rail topic inside and out and organized their arguments extremely well. They also responded effectively to what they were hearing from opponents—thinking on the spot and offering counterpoints is the most challenging skill to learn.”
Middle School Speech & Debate participation is also part of a larger national trend. “With CA joining the burgeoning middle school group, we have the opportunity to help shape and model best practices as it expands throughout Colorado,” says Martinez. “Thanks to a presentation Jon and I did at CHSAA, the association is paying attention, and they are looking to expand into the middle school realm in the near future.”
Vogels admits that there is an advantage to encouraging CA students to jump into Speech & Debate in Middle School—as the students fine-tune their skill sets, it will enhance the quality of the program as the students reach Upper School.
At the event, CA Sophomore Emily Johnson served as a hospitality host as well as a judge for Original Oratory. She joined Speech & Debate this year, after finding a passion for speaking in her Grade 9 Global Perspectives class. She credits the program with helping her gain confidence in public speaking and becoming more willing to express her beliefs. She was impressed by the quality of the Middle School competition. “The amount of courage each person had to stand up and do what they did in front of a judge astounds me,” Emily says. “The CA kids were incredible. Their speeches were well written, and their delivery was very professional. Watching my fellow Mustangs bring so much heart to something they wrote and took pride in brought me so much joy.”
The ability to stand in front of a room and deliver a speech or make a compelling argument is an important life skill all the students value and want to improve upon. “When my dad and I were driving home, he said that people who know how to speak to large groups of people get paid more no matter what the job it is,” says Darcy.
Results from the CA Middle School Speech & Debate Tournament:
Jordan Slutzky (Grade 8) – 1st Place
Darcy Simon (6) – 3rd Place
RJ Andrews (6) – 4th Place
Interpretation of Literature
Emmaline Sprick (6) – 3rd Place
Public Forum Debate
Elliot Brown (7) & Bennett Neely (7) – 2nd Place (3-0)
Victoria Rodriguez (6) & Ollie Dias (6) – 3rd Place (2-1)
Emma Kim (6) & Bea Yang (6) – 8th Place (1-2)
Jay Bhandari (8) & Nathan Wedajo (8) – 5th Place (2-0)