Middle School debate team reinvented, aided by Upper School team

Left to right: Katya Bigman, Adam Moinuddeen, Nelson Mathis, Ananya Das, Adele Wan, Arjun Maitra (not pictured) and Olivia McCarty (not pictured) competed at the Klein Oak Junior High School Forensic Tournament.

Khaja Moinuddeen

Left to right: Katya Bigman, Adam Moinuddeen, Nelson Mathis, Ananya Das, Adele Wan, Arjun Maitra (not pictured) and Olivia McCarty (not pictured) competed at the Klein Oak Junior High School Forensic Tournament.

Mehak Batra, Staff Writer

When Upper School debaters take a journey back to their middle school debate days, they reminisce about their speech and debate activities. These memories have led them to try to contribute their own talents to the current middle school students.

In Sept. 2017, Robin Lanier made changes to the Middle School debate team by adding more students and planning more regular tournaments. In addition to these changes, Upper School students have volunteered to assist with coaching the team and structuring the program.

The Upper School debaters help teach the Middle School students up to 3 times a week in meetings of 30 minutes to an hour. During these regular meetings, Upper School students have been trying to help the Middle School debaters develop communication and leadership skills.

“It is overall a great experience for both the Upper and Middle School debaters,”sophomore Jack Kagan said. “I myself, as a beginner, learned a lot from it. Learning from experienced debaters helps the kids out a lot and they get to learn the format.”

The Upper School debaters teach the beginner debate students during Day 6 lunch and work with more advanced debaters during Day 1 lunches. Each group, consisting of around 10 students, learns about a variety of topics ranging from argumentation to acting skills. Upper School students also host Tuesday after school debate club for one hour, where they work one-one with all levels of middle school students. Each meeting focuses on a different core idea, which help students build basic public speaking and speech structure and prepare the team to compete in middle school and high school tournaments.

Beyond learning debate and argumentation skills, Middle School students can also act, improv, and make their own speeches.

“Students have opportunities to perform all sorts of pieces: original oratories, dramatic pieces, prose pieces, poetry, humorous pieces, and more,” Middle School debate sponsor Robin Lanier said. “There are events for those who don’t want to memorize something and those who prefer to refer to a text. There is truly something for everyone.”   

The Upper School students see a promising future for the Middle School team and future Upper School debaters.

“My hope for the team is that we can provide them with a valuable service and that we can impart some of our own knowledge that we have gathered through our experiences in forensics in order to help them achieve whatever goals they desire,” sophomore Robert Garza said. “I also hope for the Middle School debate community to be an open place where long-lasting friendships and partnerships can form.”

Many of the Upper School students involved are sophomores that participated in middle school debate, both at school and in other programs.  

The high school [students], many of whom have experienced middle school debate themselves, are a terrific resource to assist younger debaters in finding their interests and events,” senior Andrew Wan said. “It’s also a great way for Upper School [students] to build relationships with Middle School students so they can be better integrated in the Upper School team.”

Participants saw the effects of the program during their first tournament. Many debaters advanced to semifinals and quarterfinals debate rounds at the Klein Oak Junior High School Forensic Tournament on Oct 21.

Many students have high hopes for the team. Sophomore Matthew Yekell hopes for the team to go to middle school nationals in June 2018 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Lanier also hopes the team will participate in more speech events.

“Some people perceive speech and debate as events for those who like to argue or as a platform to deliver historical speeches,”Lanier said. “The world of speech is so much more.”

After only a few months of aid from Upper School students, both debate programs have already made much progress in the eyes of the Upper School debaters.

“At the moment we are definitely growing into this role of leading the students. I think there are a lot of things we could do better and I think we are trying to figure that out,” Garza said.

Both the students and sponsors involved believe aiding the middle school program will create a stronger base for future Upper School debate teams.

“Given the fact that the St. Johns debate team has had trouble with being a consistent activity over the years and decades, I think we have a great opportunity here with an amazing group of underclassmen,” said Upper School debate sponsor Clay Guinn. “I am really happy they are reaching out to middle school students to help ensure the continued success of the debate team.”