October 12, 2023 by HCDE Communications
Javier Lopez, a seasoned orator who began his debate journey over a decade ago through the Houston Urban Debate League (HUDL), has been named the new CASE Debates project coordinator for Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Afterschool and Summer Enrichment for Kids (CASE for Kids).
Lopez’s new role brings him back to his roots as CASE Debates partners with HUDL to provide local high school students the opportunity to engage in elite speech and debate tournaments. Through CASE Debates, debaters from more than a dozen high school teams in Harris County receive free training and access to coaches. The initiative also offers them scholarship prospects and the opportunity to build self-esteem, expand their horizons, and meet other like-minded students locally and nationally.
As a high school freshman at the Houston Academy for International Studies, Lopez traveled the country for debate tournaments, refining his skills to construct compelling arguments and growing from an underdog to a seasoned orator. Eventually, Lopez was awarded a debate scholarship to attend the University of North Texas, where he launched his coaching career.
As he settles into his new responsibilities, Lopez reflects on his experiences as a speech and debate student and the activity’s transformational power on youth. He hopes to create a safe space for at-risk youth to thrive in competitive speech and debate.
How does it feel to lead the next generation of high school debaters?
JL: It’s an honor and a full-circle moment. I joined CASE for Kids in 2017 as an AmeriCorps member in their VISTA Program, where I worked with previous CASE Debates coordinators to develop program materials for students in Harris County. I witnessed firsthand CASE’s commitment to students and am excited to have found people as passionate as I am about debate. CASE Debates is a nationally recognized program. I hope to continue preparing students to compete at that level and empower them with the confidence to participate in various debate circuits.
Why is this program vital for student success? How will CASE Debates help Harris County learners achieve their goals academically and professionally?
JL: Speech and debate equips students with transferable skills they will use throughout their lives. Two that immediately stand out are notetaking and communication. All our students learn how to effectively take notes in a capacity that is easy to understand. This is a skill they use for debate preparation and in the classroom, and it can also be used in the boardroom. Similarly, many of our students enter the program with the fear of public speaking. We help shift their mindset so they can confidently communicate with anyone and deliver their debate position. When they travel to tournaments and meet representatives from various companies, these middle and high school students can discuss high-level topics with industry experts and have a contextual understanding of what they are saying. Whether it’s politics, economics, social, or environmental ideas, our CASE Debate students can speak about it all because they have done the research. This program fosters professional opportunities and helps create well-rounded citizens.
Describe the impact speech and debate programs had on your life, which led you to this position.
JL: I felt like the world expanded as I became a more experienced debater in HUDL tournaments. My first time flying, visiting a college campus, and spending an extended period away from home were all because of debate competitions. They were learning experiences that helped me grow mentally and emotionally. By the time I began competing and coaching at the collegiate level, I felt well-prepared. Now, I get the opportunity to see our kids have similar experiences through CASE Debates events like the HUDL Summer Debate Institute hosted at the University of Houston.
What do you hope students will learn from your personal experiences as a debater?
JL: The ability to manifest change in their lives. The biggest component in my shift to break into highly competitive academic spaces was the belief that I could participate on that level. One day, I envisioned myself in those spaces and worked to get there. I’m grateful for the people who took a chance on me, and I want to provide the same opportunities for Harris County learners. Students’ expectations for themselves vary, but what will be consistent in CASE Debates is an environment where students feel safe and where they find a sense of purpose and inspiration for the future.
As a former high school speech and debate student, how will your experience impact how you lead the CASE Debates program? What are your goals as the new coordinator?
JL: Having been in their shoes, I can motivate students who, due to financial or transportation constraints, might not normally access these opportunities; however, CASE Debates bridges these gaps, allowing them to thrive. Going forward, I want this program to focus on retention and recruitment. We have an incredible array of students, but there is so much untapped potential in Harris County schools, and we can help them shine. Additionally, I want to unite the speech and debate community because it’s fractured between private schools or leagues and the public circuit. CASE Debates has already made a name for itself on the local and national scene, and I’m excited to continue pushing this program and our students to greatness.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
To learn more about CASE for Kids, visit www.hcde-texas.org/afterschoolzone.