The English-Speaking Union

Middle School Public Debate Program

Debate and Leadership

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By Mary Purcell, Middle School Student, Barkalow Middle School, New Jersey

I have been a debater for Barkalow Middle School since the debate club first started. (Barkalow has been a member of the Garden State Debate League since its inception.)  Debate taught me not only how to speak in public, but also how to advocate and support my opinion, how to listen and how to have the courage to stand up for others. This was a gift that benefited me in more than arguments with my parents. Presentations in school did not phase me and stepping in when someone was being bullied was no problem. I had a new confidence, a new skill under my belt that prepared me for whatever the world was planning to throw at me. I saw this confidence grow in my friends who also joined the debate team. Girls I knew who would freak out before every presentation were now walking with their heads held high. Debate took shy, timid students and turned them into forces to be reckoned with. I wanted to take this remedy for self esteem issues and spread it to a school without a debate team.

For my Girl Scouts' Gold Award project of 2014-2015 I created a debate team at St. Rose of Lima in Freehold Borough, New Jersey. The experience has been incredible and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work with such inspiring students. The change and growth I see in the students is a gift in itself. Seeing the kids apply lessons I've taught them, whether it be heckling, Assertion, Reasoning, Evidence, or how to take notes during a debate, is truly amazing. The greatest honor of all is when a parent tells me how grateful they are that debate has helped their kids learn to speak up in everyday situations. Some of the best debaters on this team are the shyest. These kids have taught me that taking chances can lead to great opportunities. Every time one of my students take a heckle or go through a speech without stuttering I feel an immense pride. My project will give the school the opportunity to have students benefit from participating in debate for years to come. The English-Speaking Union Garden State Debate League will give these kids the opportunity to continue to learn more strategies and tools for public speaking. What started as a simple project has turned into an adventure. My journey started with my debating experience and I am thankful the project for the Girl Scouts of America gave me the opportunity to introduce the next generation of debaters to this wonderful program!  

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