This summer, students from various South Bay schools attended the Harker Forensics Institute (HFI), a special debate camp for students preparing for fall debate competitions.
“HFI is a two-week intensive study course where students self-select a debate area to work in,” said Carol Green, US debate teacher. “They came from throughout the region as this was the first year HFI had been opened to the Silicon Valley community.”
Students ranged from eighth graders to incoming seniors and from novice to varsity in experience levels. They received top-level instruction from some of the best coaches in the nation and region. The coaching staff included Green and fellow US debate teacher Steve Clemmons, as well Doug Dennis from Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, Paul Pinza from Westmont High School in Campbell and Sean Mumper from Presentation High School in San Jose.
The HFI also received help from 2009 graduates Raghav Aggarwal, Kaavya Gowda and Pratusha Erraballi, who served as assistant teachers in their respective fields and led lectures and lab sessions during the two weeks.
There were 41 students enrolled in the program divided among four events: Public Forum, Congressional Debate, Policy and Lincoln-Douglas.
“HFI gives students an extra edge during the competitive season because it allows them to focus for two weeks on their debate event,” Green said. “From specialized lectures to personalized feedback and coaching, students get the opportunity to try out different techniques in research and delivery that they may not get during the school year.”
However, HFI is also an opportunity for students to explore speech and debate even if they don’t plan to compete. “A number of students don’t have time during the school year to take a speech class but want to learn the research methods and argumentation techniques that forensics teaches,” said Green. Additionally, this allows students who may have communication apprehension the opportunity to explore public speaking in a more nurturing environment.
Because forensics is a collaborative event and one that is strengthened by the level of competition, it is important for students to get as many opportunities to improve themselves and their peers. “At HFI, we made sure our focus was practicum and education,” Green noted. While other forensics institutes spend a fair amount of time with the instructors watching the students do research and write cases, HFI is structured for students to take that work home with them and to do more hands-on learning in the classroom. Students brought their research and cases each day for critiques and feedback, but the goal was to keep the students learning throughout the eight-hour days.
“One of the reasons to open up HFI to the outside community was the hope of creating a larger sense of local community,” Green said. “There are a number of forensics institutes in the country, but very few are operated by high schools and for high schools.” By keeping numbers small and focusing on local students, the HFI organizers hoped to provide a camp that costs less than the for-profit institutes that exist while offering students a highly educational forensics experience.
This year, HFI had students from Harker, Presentation, St. Francis, Lynbrook, Saratoga and Palo Alto high schools. “While we hope to open up a few more spaces next year, our goal will still be to offer a personalized experience that prepares students for the competitive year but also for life,” Green said.