Our school is located next to a jail where there is a daily line of inmates coming in and out. The neighborhood is known more for poverty, crime, drugs, gangs, and failing schools than academic opportunities. However, our school three years ago started a debate team – the only school in the area with a debate team. It has grown to nearly 100 students from grades 7th-12th, and has become the largest urban debate team in the country. Our students’ academic abilities range from special education to valedictorian. Their backgrounds range from abuse, mental institutionalization to perfect attendance. Their behaviors ranges from regularly suspended to model student. But they are all united by their passion and love for debating. They spend their days learning about debate, evenings in debate practice, weekends at debate tournaments and summers at debate camps.
We have become one of the most successful debate teams. Since our first tournament on October 3rd we have been ranked at least 1st or 2nd every weekend and 1st place at urban debate league tournaments. We have state champions, city champions, nationally ranked middle school debaters, undefeated debaters, middle school debaters defeating private high school debaters. You name an accomplishment and chances are our debate team has one under its belt.
But more important than the awards is the infinite educational opportunities. Debate motivates our students to learn about current events, read philosophy, research public policy, study economics, practice public speaking skills and numerous other academic skills. Debate empowers our students to overcome so many obstacles in one of the poorest congressional districts in America. Debate is a social vehicle for our students to build a community, meet new friends, have fun while learning, travel and learn about different cities.
For 100 years debate has been dominated by private schools or wealthy, elite public schools. The Urban Debate League was created to provide the opportunity for public school students to compete. While it has created infinite opportunities, the resource inequalities still exist. Our competitors use laptops. We use scratch paper. Our competitors wear fancy suits. Our students wear school uniforms or casual clothes. But as our team grows larger and stronger, the need for more technology, supplies, tournaments, travel, and coaching grow. I’ve been told that we should limit the number of students on the debate team but for me that is out of the question. Every student who is interested and excited about learning should never be denied that opportunity. Also, I firmly believe that a civics education grounded in debate, public speaking, oratory, politics, current events, law, government, and discussion is desperately needed in today’s schools.
And so that is why we turn to Donors Choose to support our Debate Team. It has been our dream to have laptops for our students. Our school does not have a computer lab. Our school had a laptop cart years ago but no longer. There are no computer skills classes, no typing classes, and no programming classes. Few students have computer and internet access at home and the school lacks such resources as well. That leaves most of the research up to me. At first while we were building a debate team that was reasonable. It was hard enough trying to recruit students, train students, encourage them to attend tournaments, and of course trying to win tournaments. All my students were at the novice high school or middle school level last year.
But this year is different. Our team has entered its third year. We now have a handful of Varsity debaters. We have a solid beginner debate program. And so now I can higher my expectations for our students.
Asking for a laptop is difficult and asking for several laptops is close to impossible. But I have never ceased to be amazed by the incredible Donors Choose community, which brings together a diverse number of people dedicated to creating the most excellent opportunities for our students.
And that is what I can guarantee. In the South Bronx we have an incredible program that is teaching nearly 100 students a year incredible skills in advocacy, public speaking, current events, political science, philosophy, logic, law, government, civics and so many other subjects that are now ignored in our standardized testing world. Our students are traveling across the East coast and even sometimes the entire nation competing in debate tournaments when the majority of their fellow students are stuck on their blocks in the Bronx. And so I want to make sure if they give me their all, that I give them my all and always guarantee them the best educational resources available.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this letter and thanks for supporting Donors Choose!
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