Harlem High School Student Earns Top Spot at Yale University Debate Tournament
Success Academy – September 21, 2016
New York, N.Y — Sixteen-year-old Harlem resident Sekou Cisse departed Yale University on September 18 with his head held high — and with good reason: The eleventh grade student from Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts had battled 150 of the best debaters in the country at the Yale University Debate Invitational and come out on top.
Joined by students from as far away as Florida and California, Sekou spent the day debating whether countries should prohibit nuclear power production, delivering arguments both for and against such a proposal. Judges, who scored speakers at the tournament on their organizational, public speaking, and argumentative skills, ranked Sekou as the tournament’s best speaker. Sekou also finished second overall in the competition — losing only one debate in the final round against a student from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
For Sekou, who has been debating since he was an eighth grader, the tournament marked the culmination of years of effort. On three previous occasions, he has been only one win away from earning a bid to attend the highly prestigious Tournament of Champions held at the University of Kentucky. “This time, I worked really hard to prepare my arguments and did a lot of research. The competition was high, but I went in and wound up surpassing my goal and earning the bid,” said Sekou.
Sekou enrolled in Success Academy Harlem 1 in 2006 as a first grader, part of the network’s founding class of scholars. “I debate because it gives me an outlet for the issues I care about, like social justice. I want to use debate as a platform to raise issues that matter, especially issues that impact people who look like me,” said Sekou, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Mali.
Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts debate coach Joshua Wurzman was proud of Sekou’s performance. “In four of the final rounds, Sekou faced opponents from top private and public schools that were undefeated up to that point in the tournament. He stepped up to the challenge beautifully. His work ethic in debate is awe-inspiring,” said Wurzman.
But Wurzman and Sekou both know the positive impacts of debate go beyond the trophies. “In addition to learning how to research, write, and speak clearly, debate teaches my students the power of advocacy and argument to shape the world in their favor,” Wurzman said.
Sekou’s success in the tournament means he has earned one of the two necessary “bids” that will allow him to compete at the Tournament of Champions at the end of the debate season. His next opportunity to earn the second bid that will qualify him for the tournament comes in October, when he will compete against more top debate teams at the Bronx High School of Science.
Success Academy offers debate as an elective at SA High School of the Liberal Arts and at seven of its middle schools. Students regularly compete against elite public and private school debate teams in tournaments across New York City and in the tri-state area. Last year, more than 70 scholars competed in over 20 debate competitions throughout the year.
ABOUT SUCCESS ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOLS
Founded in 2006, Success Academy Charter Schools are free public K-12 schools open to all children in the state through a random lottery. With 41 schools across Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens, Success Academy enrolls 14,000 students, primarily low-income children of color in disadvantaged neighborhoods: 77% of students receive free or reduced-price lunch, 95% are children of color, 12% are children with disabilities, and 8.5% are English language learners. Ranked in the top 1% in math and the top 1.5% in English on 2016 state proficiency tests, Success Academy schools received more than 20,000 applications for about 3,200 open seats this year.