This article originally appeared in the summer 2014 Harker Quarterly.
Harker has robust debate programs in the middle and upper schools – and it was a successful year for both!
by Karina Momary
Growth and Competitive Success
The middle school speech and debate program has seen tremendous growth in the past five years. In 2010, the competitive debate team had fewer than 15 students and participated in only one type of debate. This year, 120 students competed in four styles of debate and 10 speech events.
Team members are dedicated, with students attending lunchtime workshops, after-school practices and weekend competitions. All of this hard work has yielded notable competitive success. The team has been awarded an Overall School of Excellence Award by the National Speech & Debate Association for the past two years.
This prestigious award is given to the top four speech and debate programs nationwide. In addition, the team has won five national championships and numerous regional awards. Several students, including eighth graders Serena Lu and Alan Hughes, have been recognized as undefeated during debates, and speech and debate students in all grades have brought home first, second and third place finishes.
While competitive success is valued, the speech and debate team also builds a strong sense of community. The program hosts numerous team-building events for students and families. For example, the Forensics Family Dinner offered speech and debate families a chance to share a meal and build lasting connections. The team also hosted a speech and debate showcase in May, giving families and students an opportunity to hear from some of the talented team members and providing extra practice to those attending the California Middle School Speech & Debate State Tournament and the National Speech & Debate Association Middle School Nationals.
Preparation for state and national competitions has allowed the students to share the work they have honed over the year with an even larger audience.
Upper School Buddies
This year, relationships were forged as upper school buddies helped middle school team members prepare for competitions. Together, the buddy teams have edited cases, watched videos and shared useful feedback – and the result has been tremendous growth for Harker’s younger debaters. This student interaction also will help ease the transition for middle school students as they move on to the upper school. Upper school buddies have provided middle schoolers with personal coaches and a cheering squad for each tournament.
As the teams prepare for summer trips, they are all excited to share their debating skills with the rest of the country.
Karina Momary is a middle school debate teacher.
by Jenny Heidt
Harker’s upper school teams took home national titles this year in Lincoln- Douglas, public forum and congressional debate. Individual events and policy debate students also did very well, and several qualified to compete at nationals. In fact, Harker had more students qualified to compete at the elite Tournament of Champions than any other school in the country.
The team has a long history of winning top awards, but what set this year apart was the breadth of success across all of the forensic events. The upper school team has about 165 students competing in five main events: policy debate, public forum debate, individual events, congressional debate and Lincoln-Douglas debate. The team competes at tournaments throughout the state and nation.
At various policy debate tournaments, our students advocated for lifting the embargo against Cuba, better enforcing money-laundering laws with Mexican authorities and assisting with a reforestation project in Mexico. Other teams proposed entering into a treaty regarding oil with Venezuela, giving more humanitarian aid to Cuba and improving our border infrastructure. Next year, they will debate the development and exploration of the oceans.
Several policy debaters are considering debate in college, including our most successful pair of Arya Kaul and Ayush Midha, both grade 11. The duo made it to the final round of the elite University of Southern California Round Robin and qualified for nationals. Anika Jain, Aditi Maheshwari, Emmie Malyugina, Rahul Shukla, Molly Wancewicz, Vienna Wang and Ray Xu, all grade 9; Panny Shan, grade 10; and Nitya Mani, grade 11, also brought home trophies.
Policy debaters compete in pairs, argue about the details of public policy and have one resolution for the entire year. This year’s topic was about increasing economic engagement with Mexico, Venezuela or Cuba. Debaters have to innovate and learn about a wide variety of possible public policies to stay current with the topic. Judges tend to be highly trained in argumentation and are looking for students to maximize the number of logical points made during their speeches. As a result, the rate of delivery is very rapid and there is a premium on strategic thinking and research skills.
The in-depth research required for success teaches policy debaters skills that go far beyond the debate rounds. Midha says that policy debate “has been incredibly valuable not only because it has facilitated my research, critical thinking and advocacy skills, but also because the activity has improved my efficiency, time management and organization.” Chandini Thakur, grade 10, agreed, adding, “I’ve learned several methods of research, organization and analysis that I can apply to my other classes.”
Public Forum Debate
“Debate teaches you some of the most important skills in life,” said Sorjo Banerjee, grade 10, public forum team member. “Research, public speaking and critical thinking are all required to become adept at debate. Debate is an amazing extracurricular where you grow as an individual and compete with friends.”
Public forum debate is focused on persuading a general audience. Students need to make logical arguments, but focus on public speaking. Their topics change every two months and cover a wide variety of areas. One of the topics this year asked them to weigh the value of single-sex education, while another was about economic development in India.
Vamsi Gadiraju, grade 11, added that he “enjoyed getting to meet and befriend people from all over the country” and from as far away as China.
Some of the most successful public forum students included Jasmine Liu, grade 10 and Kevin Duraiswamy, Arjun Kumar, Stephanie Lu, Sreyas Misra and Sebi Nakos, all grade 12. Misra and Nakos closed out the National Debate Coaches Association Championship Tournament. Duraiswamy, along with Aadyot Bhatnagar, Nikhil Kishore and Avik Wadhwa, grade 11, and Shreyas Parthasarathy and Jithin Vellian, grade 12, also closed out a tournament, winning a three-way championship at James Logan High School. Finally, Maneesha Panja, grade 12, and Nakos were the champions of the College Prep School Round Robin.
Harker will have three students competing at the National Speech & Debate Association Championship in June: Rohith Kuditipudi and Madhu Nori, both grade 11, and Kenny Zhang, grade 12. Continuing on the theme of strong success across the events, Harker set a new record by qualifying five students to compete at the state tournament in individual events. Kuditipudi; Lisa Liu, grade 10; Steven Wang, grade 11; Andy Wang, grade 12; and Zhang performed very well at the state tournament, with four of them advancing to semifinals.
Students in individual events compete in categories such as original oratory, extemporaneous speaking or dramatic interpretation of literature. Unlike the other debate events, there is not an element of refutation and so students strive to perfect their presentation and are largely judged based on their public speaking skills.
Sarah de Vegvar, grade 9, said that when she was in middle school, she never dreamed she would enter into speech competitions, but that the experience has given her a “chance to improve [her] public speaking skills and become more well-rounded.”
“My favorite aspect of (congressional) debate is learning how to deal with competitors in a group setting,” said Sandip Nirmel, grade 9. “This is especially important in congressional debate, where politics play a large role in deciding who gets to speak the most and who gets the most influence in the chamber. Learning people skills is really important for me because I know that they are relevant in the real world,” he added.
Students in congressional debate propose and debate various pieces of mock legislation. They need to be well-versed in current events and excellent public speakers to be successful. Captain Saachi Jain, grade 12, was a fantastic team leader and was especially helpful in coordinating the many research assignments that are needed for the students to be ready to give speeches about a wide variety of domestic and international topics.
Her leadership helped Aditya Dhar and Misha Tseitlin, both grade 9, qualify for nationals. Tseitlin was also first at the National Debate Coaches Association Championship. It is unusual for freshmen to do so well at the varsity level and it speaks to the talent of these students and the quality of the program.
Srikar Pyda, grade 12, and Pranav Reddy, grade 11, had particularly successful years in Lincoln-Douglas competitions. Both young men qualified for nationals. Reddy also took home first place at the National Debate Coaches Association Championship and won titles at several invitationals. There is no one official ranking system for season-long performance, but it is safe to say that Reddy was one of the top five debaters in the country and that Pyda was not far behind him.
Lincoln-Douglas students debate as individuals and their topics change every two months. The topics tend to be philosophical and ask students to weigh competing values. For instance, one of the spring topics asked how poorer nations should prioritize economic development when it poses a threat to the environment.
Natalie Simonian, grade 10, summed up her first year of Lincoln-Douglas debate by saying that she had “a lot of fun going to tournaments” and making “many new friends and getting closer to some of the old ones thanks to debate.”
Many students are looking forward to a major tournament this June in Kansas City. Harker also has students participating in summer debate workshops that last between one and seven weeks. It has been a great season and the teams look forward to preparing for the next one!
Jenny Heidt is an upper school debate teacher.
The middle school speech and debate program made history in late May at the first California Middle School Speech & Debate State Tournament! Harker emerged with two state championships – a single and a team – and numerous top five finishes. The students spent countless hours preparing and their hard work definitely paid off.
Sagar Rao, grade 8, was named the 2014 Lincoln-Douglas debate California state champion.
Megan Huynh and Aliesa Bahri, both grade 8, and Maddie Huynh and Avi Gulati, both grade 6, were named 2014 policy debate California state co-champions. In Lincoln-Douglas, Serena Lu, grade 8, took third place and was recognized as the top speaker in her division. Alan Hughes, grade 8, was a quarterfinalist and recognized as the third speaker in his division.
In Policy, Maddie Huynh was recognized as the top speaker in her division. Sonya Verma, grade 7, was recognized as the second speaker in her division.
In Dramatic Interpretation, Nikki Solanki, grade 6, was a finalist and Gulati won fourth place.
In Original Oratory, Millie Lin, grade 8, took fourth place and Riya Gupta, grade 7, took third place.
Congratulations to all!