The webinars usually start with a teacher, or in this case, the county’s curriculum supervisor.
“Welcome everyone, we’re getting started,” says Megan West, who supervises Broward County Public Schools’ debate program.
West then turns it over to a group of high school students, “debate stars,” as she calls them, who proceed to do conduct an interactive, 45-minute long teaching session.
They’ve done a dozen of these interactive webinars, students volunteering to help their peers in every competitive debate category.
“Even though I’m graduating, it’s about giving back to the community that gave me so much,” said Maria Duran, a senior at Cypress Bay High School and the captain of her school’s debate team.
“When these kids like, want to learn about debate, you know there’s nothing better than just teaching them and watching them grow as debaters,” added Manny DeLeon, a junior at Flanagan High School.
Broward has the nation’s biggest debate program, with teams or clubs at every school, at every level, so this interactive, student-led effort is being noticed at the highest levels of the school district.
“I’ve seen sessions online where there’s been as many as 500 students and they’re working with each other, sharing ideas, notes, techniques, it’s just been really fabulous to see,” said superintendent Robert Runcie.
Runcie says debate is crucial because it teaches students life skills.
“The ability to look at information, analyze it, draw some conclusions, communicate that effectively, defend your position and do all of that in a respectful, professional way,” Runcie said.
The webinars are interactive, and they basically provide coaching from those who have done it in competition.
“It’s not necessary to say why you’re right but more so to say why your opponents are wrong and try to beat down their argument,” Manny says in one of the videos.
So what’s happening here is not just a learning experience for the students who are involved, the teachers are also picking up the finer points of succeeding at debate competitions.
“I get new insight, so one of the things that we look for is you might know the foundational components of it, but to hear different things that you can implement into your craft, into my students for them to do well,” says Geneveve Barnes, the debate coach at West Pine Middle School.
“So fabulous and so wonderful,” said Jessica Schneider, debate coach at Everglades Elementary School, about the high school kids. “Some of them could come in and teach our debate courses after school.”
These online sessions, with all their insider tips, are reaching more kids than traditional after-school club meetings ever did. Perhaps it’s a silver lining to this stuck-at-home experience.