Teen Debaters Use Virtual Summer Camp to Hone Art of Persuasion

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July 20, 2021 by HCDE-Texas

Newbie debate student Emily Reyes is impassioned about issues like human rights and equal access for students with special needs. Her teachers encouraged her to attend the Houston Urban Debate League (HUDL) Summer Debate Institute this summer to better understand the fundamentals and basics of debate.

The weeklong camp funded by the nonprofit HUDL and supported by Harris County Department of Education’s CASE Debates program provides beginner to advanced support for area high school debate students. HUDL has operated the camp for 14 years, and the Center for Afterschool, Summer and Enrichment for Kids, or CASE for Kids, became a camp collaborator four years ago. The camp has been virtual for the past two summers.

Emily Reyes

Reyes, a spunky Dobie High School sophomore in Pasadena ISD, is banking on the benefits of the virtual camp as she joins her school debate team next year.

“My teachers told me [debate] will help me in speaking and correlating my thoughts better for writing essays,” she said. “I’m grateful that I got to be a part of this camp.”

CASE Debates provides the yearlong debate program at Reyes’ school and will support up to 300 students in Harris County with debate services during the 2021-2022 school year. While HUDL supplies debate services in Houston ISD high schools, CASE Debates provides services in other area districts. Approximately 70 students from six districts and three charters are being served through the summer camp.

Toni Candis, CASE Debates project coordinator for HCDE, says CASE for Kids and HUDL used last year’s virtual camp prompted by the pandemic to make this year’s even better. Past attendees completed questionnaires about sessions. Less time is spent on lectures, and more hands-on experiences are offered through group activities, labs and special assignments. Afterhours, students have the option to participate in bingo and trivia games.

“We include lots of interaction,” Candis said. “Students go in breakout rooms and have time to share ideas and get to know one another.”

Four camp instructors and interns are former students in the CASE Debates program who are on summer break from college. Ahmad Howard, a graduate from Spring ISD, attends the University of Chicago. Rodrigo Trujillo from Alief ISD attends Bradley University. Mohammed Hemeida from Spring ISD goes to Columbia University.

Queen Eche

Queen Eche, an Alief ISD grad who is attending Dartmouth College, is teaching the advanced class on the Policy Debate style and serves as a cross-examination lab instructor.

The rising sophomore at the Ivy League college believes debate helped her get into her dream school. She is a member of the Dartmouth Debate Team, which won the national debate tournament this year.

“I gained valuable communication and writing skills through debate,” said Eche, who is co-editor of the Black Praxis Magazine at Dartmouth.

By giving back to youth at the camp, Eche hopes to share her passion and expertise with both novice and experienced teen debaters.

“These kids are amazing and know who they want to be in debate,” she said. “Explaining something to them and seeing them get it is just so rewarding, much more than winning a debate round or getting a trophy.”

Eche knows firsthand that debate makes teens smarter and more empathetic. Cultivating her logic and writing skills has helped her maintain a straight-A status as a Dartmouth freshman.

Chinh Le

Spring Branch ISD student Chinh Le is spending his second year at the virtual camp. The rising junior studies World Schools Debate and is becoming more proficient at transferring his knowledge into persuasion.

Le wants to attend Stanford or Columbia universities and become a lawyer to help others.   

“Overall, debate helps me not only in speaking but also with research,” he said. “I’ve learned about problems with the environment, and I want to make a positive impact on my community.”

CASE Debates provides support for debate at his school along with access to CASE Debates tournaments. For that, Le is grateful.

“Even if you don’t think you like the idea of debate, pursue it,” he said. “It offers you the opportunity to network with other people and could really change your life and how you view the world today.”

For information about CASE Debates, go to hcde-texas.org/afterschoolzone.

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