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Success Academy Launches New Debate Program — and Starts Its Own League

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Picture this: You are a Success Academy debate scholar. You’ve argued sides against your classmates and even debated against other schools. But now you must stand in front of a judge to deliver your own carefully-researched policy. For the policy to succeed, you must prove that, if passed, it will uniquely benefit society. You will be asked time and again to defend your assertions with evidence that supports your claims throughout a 45-minute debate. Intimidated yet?

As the manager of Success Academy’s debate program, I am proud that we are introducing policy debate to our scholars this year — and just as proud to launch the Success Academy Debate League, which will bring students from across the city to rigorous, Success Academy-run tournaments. Previously, scholars competed in Parliamentary or Public Forum-style debates within New York City leagues, where participants argue for or against a specific proposal. We found that these tournaments were often unorganized and did not allow our scholars to receive high-level feedback on their abilities.

On September 30, the Success Academy Debate League hosted its first tournament, with 120 scholars competing across novice and advanced (or ‘open’) divisions. The students were evaluated by 56 experienced judges from New York University, SUNY Binghamton, and Rutgers University. The judges delivered actionable feedback to every scholar after each debate. Parents also spent two hours in debate training themselves, so they can understand what their scholars will face this year! The day was filled with positive competitive energy, including debate team chant battles and challenges to rival schools in the ‘war room’ where scholars prepared their arguments. I was touched when I saw parents, watching their children debate, excuse themselves from the room to cry in the hallways — they were moved to tears by their child’s abilities. Our scholars and parents demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to debate — even during the day’s lowest moment — an overflowing toilet!

Success Academy’s transition to policy debate is also designed to cultivate our middle school debaters’ creativity and innovative spirit. Competitors rigorously research diverse proposals all year to come up with the best solution to a given societal problem. The negative side must then argue, on the spot, why the affirmatives new policy is either harmful to the status quo, illogical, or introduce a better policy of their own. In a world where emotional appeal stands in for well-researched logic and reasoning, our debaters must make logical appeals resonate. This year, scholars will be debating education reform and spending.

At the heart Success Academy’s ETHOS values is the idea of ownership. It’s fitting that our scholars will advocate for solutions to problems that impact them directly and propose strategies to reform our education system. To prepare for this topic, our scholars are engaged in an extraordinary level of research on the history of education reform and federal funding during their elective classes and after school clubs. Already, they’re critically examining research papers, news articles, and existing legislation to form a policy proposal of their own. Policy debate is the most common form of debate among colleges and we know our debaters will depart our program with the skills they need to become competitive collegiate debaters and well-informed citizens.

This year, more scholars are benefitting from our debate program than ever. For the first time, we’re offering debate to about 500 scholars at all of Success Academy middle schools. Ten new debate coaches started this year and are bringing new energy and incredible backgrounds to our program. Already, our scholars are making huge strides under their guidance.

Below, you’ll hear from some of our newest debate coaches, who will share their own story with debate and why they’re excited for the coming year of policy debate!

Written by Meagan Kowaleski October 4, 2017

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