Carol City Middle School: The Great Debaters

Looking for a hot trend in public education? There’s no debate about this, it’s debate. As in, speech and debate teams, which are increasingly seen as one of the best tools in the academic arsenal.

Over the past three years, Broward County Public Schools expanded debate programs to every high school and middle school in the district. Miami-Dade Public Schools also see the value in getting kids involved in speech and debate. For example, Carol City Middle School expanded and emphasized its debate program a couple of years ago, and already, that move is paying off with first-place trophies at competitions.

“I’m very proud, these kids put in a lot of time,” said debate coach and English teacher Bess Rodriguez, explaining that the students not only take speech and debate as a class, they also have regular practices and all-day competitions every Saturday.

The kids work hard and it’s paying off. They’ve already won the Urban Debate League championship in Miami-Dade County. That’s no small feat for a school fighting to improve its academic reputation. Carol City Middle was an “F” school. Emphasizing debate was part of the improvement strategy, and the school raised its grade last year to a “C”. Of course, it’s hard to say if the debate program can take credit for the upgrade, but there’s no doubt participating on the team can have benefits even beyond improving their communication skills.

“One of the things that we did was target those academic areas, right, so when they’re in debate they’re working on speech, they’re working on critical thinking, they’re working on writing, they’re working on reading,” said principal Maria Medina.

“The critical thinking comes in when they’re asked questions, they have to know a topic inside and out and be able to think on their feet,” Rodriguez added.

It’s also just plain fun, especially for kids who like to talk.

“I love to argue, so it’s like, you argue without fighting, it’s pretty fun and it’s just interesting,” said Yasmine Roberts, an eighth-grader.

“It let me gain confidence, let me talk to a large crowd, also let me learn stuff that I never knew before,” said Kavon Allen, who’s been on the team since 6th grade, when they kick-started the program.

The principal said she was astounded to hear the kids talking to each other about global climate change, US-China relations, and federal education funding. The students have to research the topics before they make arguments. It’s part of the learning process, which goes way beyond the technical part of competitive debate.

Now the school’s goal is to raise its “C” grade to an “A”, while the debate team’s goal is to keep on winning trophies.

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