HCDE’s CASE Debates prompts critical thinking, constructive argument among teens in Harris County schools

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High school seniors Diego Colindres and Syed Fatmi both joined CASE Debates for the appeal of crafting an argument with their peers. Colindres’ debate format in a team of five called “World Schools” is impromptu. Fatmi’s style with one teammate is formal and defined as “Policy” debate.

Teen debate in Houston is blossoming through a new project called “CASE Debates” which pairs a successful, established debate model created by the Houston Urban Debate League, or HUDL, with Harris County Department of Education’s afterschool intermediary which serves 9,000 youth in Harris County, the Center for Afterschool, Summer and Enrichment for Kids, or CASE for Kids.

“Having debate as an activity is an access point where multiple campuses have the same interest, allowing us to bring together teens from multiple districts under one content area,” said Lisa Thompson-Caruthers, CASE for Kids director. “Kids can see the real-world application for personal development, and there is appeal because it’s competitive.”

Fatmi, from Kerr High School in Alief ISD, likes to explore his debate topic, digging deeper into researching climate change. His “Policy” debate style is a well-established, traditional style which is research-based and allows students to specialize in a single subject throughout the year. Colindres, from charter school Yes Prep North Central in Aldine, likes to argue in the moment through “World Schools” debate style, grabbing his research topic 30 minutes before the debate and using the dictionary, almanac and thesaurus to map his positioning.

HUDL coordinator Andy Stubbs is deft in listing the positives of both styles of debate for youth adults.

“The core skill set is that it’s interdisciplinary,” Stubbs said. “Learning how to research comes in handy in classes like science and social studies. One of the things we teach is that a good argument is structured, whether it be in writing or speaking.”

The CASE Debates program is funded through HCDE and provides debate services, including three seminars, for students in 10 high schools in greater Harris County. Previously, HUDL was serving campuses in HISD only, so spreading the program is literally spreading the fervor for debate.

“Debate sparks and nurtures critical thinking while also helping students improve communication skills,” said HCDE Superintendent James Colbert, Jr. “We are building relationships across school districts in Harris County, allowing youth to converse and compete and educators to build partnerships.”

Teachers like Yes Prep North Central English instructor Alison Kilfoyle say debate is the tool they are using to equip their students for college as it makes use of organization, research and oratory skills.

“I happened to reach out to HCDE CASE for Kids when this came up,” said Kilfoyle, who teaches gifted students. “My kids had been asking for debate for years, and it really aligns with where they are headed.”

CASE Debates is supported by several members of AmeriCorps VISTA, professionals who commit to volunteering for a year of service to specific projects. Members focus on building organizational, administrative and financial capacity for the organization they serve.

A CASE Debates tournament held Jan. 20 at Taylor High School in Alief ISD will be followed by a tournament at Elsik High School in Alief ISD on Feb. 3. A third finalist tournament will be held in downtown Houston on Feb. 24.

For more information about CASE Debates, call 713-696-1331 or go to www.afterschoolzone.org .

Photo: Students from Taylor High School in Alief ISD strategize before a debate tournament held at their school Jan. 20.

About Harris County Department of Education: HCDE provides special education, therapy services, early education, adult education and after-school programming. Services are funded by government grants, fees and a local property tax rate of $.005195. For every dollar in local property tax collected, HCDE provides $4.40 in services to the 25 Harris County school districts. HCDE also operates four campuses for students with profound special education needs and adjudicated youth who require a low student-teacher ratio and highly structured environment. One-hundred percent of students served on HCDE campuses are at-risk. The organization is governed by an elected board of seven trustees and has 1,060 employees and 33 facilities, including 15 Head Start centers. More info at www.hcde-texas.org .

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