What’s Not Debatable – the Humanity of Immigrants and Refugees

An 8-year-old immigrant child cries as she talks about being separated from her father during a family separation protest.
Image credit to Ross D. Franklin of the Associated Press.

As national immigration policy horrifies us, our students debate immigration with respect and dignity

This summer the MN Urban Debate League will host over 100 middle and high school students at Augsburg University to learn about the 2018-19 school year debate topic – Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially reduce its restrictions on legal immigration to the United States.

Students will dig into this complicated question – to examine everything from opening the border completely, to re-evaluating H1B visas, to DACA. They will debate both sides of the resolution, as they critically examine the evidence – questioning their instructors, their camp teammates, and their own opinions on the topic.

What they won’t debate is the full humanity, inherent dignity, and worth of the people who wish to come to the United States – whether that is through the asylum process, existing legal immigration pathways, or those whose status is undocumented.

The MN Urban Debate League believes that each of the more than 800 children who are in our program – whether they were born here, or across the globe, are amazing. Our students are bright, talented, and looking for the opportunity to learn and grow. We will affirm their worth, and support them as they seek their own truth through inquiry and research. We will work together to build an educational community that values all students, so that our children will know that while we discuss policy issues, this does not mean that their value as people within our community is up for debate.

The current presidential administration’s approach to immigration reform, particularly its policy to separate children at the border from their parents is unconscionably cruel and inhumane. It has been declared such by multiple faith leaders, legal scholars, and leaders from both political parties. We know based on the research of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that this trauma will be incredibly difficult for children to recover from – and will impact their education, health, and forever future. This is particularly true for children younger than three, whose brains are still developing. Horrifyingly, the AP is reporting that three “tender age shelters” for children younger than five, are being used; there is also a plan to build a fourth.

It is absolutely possible to have a full and rigorous debate about immigration reform, and to do so without bigoted rhetoric. I know this is true, because I am watching 65 middle school students do it this week.  Let’s follow our students’ lead and demand more of all our civic leaders. We are hearing early news reports that it is possible, family separation may be discontinued. Until it is clear that a humane solution is reached, please keep calling your federal representatives – house and senate – and make your voice heard.

–Amy, Executive Director

Celebrating Our Superstars At ‘The Somali Oscars’

The Somali Debate Award Ceremony of 2018

“This is like the Somali Oscars!” Clara Barton student, Fowsiya, said breathlessly at our Somali Debate Initiative Championship.

Our event may not be broadcast to millions, but the energy and excitement it generates is even greater for our students! At the championship, we present students with both competitive awards as well as character awards. Although we recognize competitive success at each tournament, we know that other forms of success must not be overlooked. The Somali Student of the Year awards recognizes students who demonstrate leadership, character, and growth over the debate season. Read on to learn more about our “Oscar-nominated” students, who embody the best of debate.

Read more to see why Coach Madar Mohamed from Anne Sullivan Communication Center says: “Debaters are the best students I know.”

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National Award Recognizes Our Mission In Action

MNUDL Nonprofit Award Recipient
Amy Cram Helwich and Rebecca Froehlich receive their award from representatives from NonProfit Hub and myRollCall.

Spanish Debate League earns national nonprofit award for showing our mission of empowerment in action.

We are pleased to announce that our Spanish Debate League programming earned the Cause The Change Award in spring 2018.

The annual Cause the Change Award recognizes a successful campaign by a nonprofit which has “made a significant impact on their community by living out their mission”. The award panel, which chose from a range of nonprofit entries across the nation, selected the Spanish Debate League for its phenomenal 2017 growth and positive affirmation of Latinx students’ identities.

MNUDL was awarded a $2,500 check, a trophy, and two tickets to the national nonprofit conference, Cause Camp. Nonprofits in attendance included Charity Navigator, The Wounded Warrior Project, The Salvation Army, National Breast Cancer Foundation, the Philadelphia Eagles Charitable Foundation, and many more. Cause Camp was an inspiring and informative experience. Our representatives learned from nationally-recognized nonprofit leaders like keynote speaker Vu Le of Nonprofit AF, Lori Jacobwith of Ignited Fundraising, Paul Reynolds of The Reynolds Center for Learning and Creativity, and others!

This award and last year’s programming success would not be possible without our Spanish debate coaches, volunteers, and community leaders. We’re grateful to NonprofitHub and myRollCall for recognizing their contributions with the award.

 

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Spanish Debate is Springboard for Augsburg Student

A photo of Daniel Degollado flanked by two of his former teachers.
Former Spanish Debate student, Daniel Degollado, reminisced about achieving his goals with his former coach while volunteering.

At the end of each Spanish debate tournament, Daniel Degollado prompts students with “tambores” – “drumroll, please” – and gets them excited to receive medals and trophies. As a former debater at Highland Park Senior High School, Daniel knows just how much debate awards – and Spanish immersion – mean to students. Daniel was part of our first-ever Spanish debate cohort, and five years later, he’s returned to us to give back to current debaters. Daniel volunteers as the emcee for our Spanish debate tournaments, increasing the level of immersion by helping us run the entire event, including the rounds, judging, and awards in Spanish.

Daniel was reunited with his former coach, Paula Boe, who has continued to lead the team at Highland Park at our last tournament. Check out their conversation in the judges’ lounge!

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To Students Fighting for Safe Schools: Thank You

Students march for safe schools
Minneapolis students march for safe schools. Photo credit to Solvejg Wastvedt | MPR News

We are horrified by the tragedy at Parkland and offer our deepest condolences. As educators, it is devastating to see promising lives lost and surviving students afraid to set foot in school. But even among the tragedy, we are given hope by students lifting their voices to make their schools a safe environment.

The Parkland students are joining a storied history of youth taking action and reclaiming their power in school, from The Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963, to the Little Rock 9, to the Chicano Student Walkout (1968). With the anniversary of Columbine approaching, we are seeing students establish their own place in history by refusing to accept gun violence in schools.

Emma Gonzalez, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior, recently gave an emboldened speech confronting adults in power on what she sees as their inability to address the type of tragedy that Parkland is reeling from. In this speech, which can be read in full here, Emma says:

“…They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS. That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call BS.”

We’re proud that Twin Cities students are showing solidarity with students across the nation calling for safe schools. This has included student activism around removal of SROs in schools as well as being outspoken about a range of issues from processing the death of Philando Castile to changing the names of their schools to reflect different legacies and more voices.

Just yesterday, Minneapolis students walked out of school in protest. One of Washburn High School’s debaters, Isabel Kleckner, helped organize her fellow students to march. MPR News quotes Isabel, stating: “It’s completely unreasonable that civilians should have access to assault rifles where they can go into schools and continue to shoot students who are there trying to learn. It just keeps happening, and after Parkland, students really took this movement.” They were joined by South High School students, also represented by debater Isra Hirsi, as reported in Citypages. We’re proud of local students and others across their nation for their courage.

To the students fighting for their right to safe schools: Thank You.

You can show your support to the students fighting for safe schools by joining and promoting local and national student walkouts, including the March For Our Lives.

Tiana Bellamy Uplifts and Empowers

Sandy Bolton and Samia Abdalla stand next to Tiana Bellamy, who is holding the Community Coach of the Year plaque.
“She’s the balloon that lifts us up,” says junior varsity debater, Samia Abdalla (right)

Every year, the Minnesota Urban Debate League community honors coaches who go above and beyond for their students. MNUDL alum Tiana Bellamy exemplifies the commitment, kindness, and insight students deserve from a coach— and that’s why she was voted the 2017 Community Coach of the Year by her peers.

With Tiana’s guidance, Roosevelt High School debaters Sandy Bolton and Samia Abdalla won the junior varsity division of the 2017 Citywide Championship. Sandy and Samia worked hard to refine their critical case over the season, but credit Tiana for helping them develop their ideas using Chicana feminist scholarship. “A big part of our case is about empowering women of color in debate. We are existing and arguing, so it means a lot to us,” says Sandy. “Tiana really helped,” Samia adds. “This year, we get to argue what’s ours and debate for ourselves rather than others.”

Although Tiana’s primarily role is coaching the junior varsity debaters, she took on the responsibility of guiding Roosevelt’s younger students as well. “Tiana is a great coach. She’s always there for us when we need help. She helps out everyone,” says novice Fadha. “She comes to tournaments with us every time, asks us if we understand, and helps us out if we don’t understand,” agrees fellow novice Zubeda.

Read more to learn more about Tiana’s coaching perspective.

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Debaters Perceive Problems, Envision Solutions

Two young debaters, Tawfeeq and Mason, sit behind a laptop and prepare for their next speech.
Mason and Tawfeeq from Highland Park Senior High School crafted their cases based on schools in their neighborhood and beyond.

If you had all the power of the US Government, how would you change the education system?

That’s what our junior varsity and varsity debaters are researching, writing about, and debating this year. They have been inspired by schools in their neighborhood and beyond. MNUDL’s debaters are building cases around this policy resolution:

The United States Federal Government should amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to include funding and regulation of a universal, public pre-kindergarten education program in the United States.

The 2017 topic is offering students a chance to engage with their in-school education out of school time by identifying problems and creating new solutions. Maya from Washburn High School likes that this year’s topic helps her connect with students from other schools. “It’s interesting because we relate to it. We’re all in school. You get to meet people from other schools and connect with them and make bonds through conversations about education. That extends out, and you can have conversations about other things.”

Read on to learn more about how students would change the education system!

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Novice Debaters Make the Case for Pre-K

A picture of a child walking on chalk drawings and a sticky note stating, "Make universal Pre-K a thing"
Debaters advocated for universal pre-kindergarten at the Humboldt Invitational.

Could universal pre-kindergarten be the key to economic growth, improving democracy, and ending sexism?

At the Humboldt Invitational, students were invited to describe what education reform they’d most like to happen. Among requests like more kindness in schools, more foreign language classes, and more arts funding, several high school students advocated for a cause that wouldn’t directly affect their own schools: creating mandatory, universal Pre-Kindergarten.

Debaters gained exposure to this topic after the Minnesota debate coaches included it in the novice debate packet. The topic reflects recent statewide conversations. In 2015, Minnesota ranked in the top ten states for early childhood education. In the years since, Minnesota has prioritized pre-K. In 2016, Minnesota Legislature has allocated $50 million to preschool and early learning programs, a 43% increase in funding for school readiness programs and 28% increase in total Pre-K funding. Although Pre-K advocates wanted even more funding, Minnesota’s funding still puts it ahead of many states, including five which provide zero funding for Pre-K.

The packet includes three cases advocating for the US federal government to increase funding or regulation for education. In one case, students will advocate for this policy:

The United States Federal Government should amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to include funding and regulation of a universal, public pre-kindergarten education program in the United States.

The packet contains different arguments and research in favor of a universal pre-kindergarten policy. Debaters will discuss the benefits of adopting this policy: increased economic growth, reducing poverty, and reducing sexism. Students explain why these outcomes are important to society, how this policy is essential to creating these outcomes in society, and how specifically the policy would accomplish them. Read on to learn more about the questions this topic raises!

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Novice Debaters Make the Case for New Faces in STEM

South High School debater Shehnaz Nurien reads her debate case.
South High School novice debater Shehnaz thinks more teachers of color would make a difference in her education.

Could increasing STEM education funding create economic growth, end racism, and solve the global warming crisis?

Although Minnesota ranks among the top 10 states in overall science education, it has large gaps in science proficiency. Students of color are less likely to be proficient in math and science in 8th grade and 4th grade. This disparity is reflected in later education and careers: Minnesota is ranked 47th out of 50 states for rates of people of color in engineering programs. Minnesota reflects national trends, with few students of color receiving STEM opportunities and teachers of color even more underrepresented in STEM.

Minnesota debate coaches are creating conversation about this issue by including it in the novice debate packet. The packet includes three cases advocating for the US federal government to increase funding or regulation for education. In one case, novice students will advocate for this policy:

The United States Federal Government should amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to substantially increase funding and regulation for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics programs in elementary and secondary schools, including initiatives to hire more teachers of color and non-male teachers.

At the Humboldt Invitational, South High School debaters Marianna and Shehnaz expressed the need for such a policy. 

Our school is so diverse, but our teachers are majority white,” says Shehnaz.

And majority male,” Marianna adds. “I only have one female teacher. I notice that every day. It should reflect the population.”

The packet contains arguments and evidence promoting teachers of color in STEM. Debaters will discuss the benefits of adopting this policy: increased economic growth, reducing racism, and providing a solution to the global warming crisis. Students will explain why these benefits are necessary to the nation, how this policy is essential to creating these outcomes in society, and how specifically the policy would accomplish them. Read more about the vital questions the topic raises for education!

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Novice Debaters Make the Case for Inclusive Education

 

Patrick Henry High School debater Sydney Lohse embraces her cousin and partner, Alena Johnson. Photo by Armand Hayes.
Patrick Henry High School debater Sydney with her cousin and partner, Alena. Photo by Armand Hayes.

Could increasing funding for students with disabilities be the key to economic growth, reducing the school to prison pipeline, and ending ableism?

Only half of the United States meet requirements for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Meanwhile, Congress plans to cut funding for IDEA, and many states and local governments will not make up for the budgetary shortfall. Minnesota debate coaches are inciting dialogue about this topic by including it in the novice debate packet. The packet includes three cases advocating for the US federal government to increase funding or regulation for education. In one case, students will advocate implementing this policy:

The US Federal Government should fully fund its commitment to cover 40% of special education costs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Rookie debater Sydney from Patrick Henry High School is passionate about this case because she has seen IDEA work successfully among her friends and classmates. “I was in fifth grade and I was just starting off the school year. This kid who actually turned out to be my friend – he was super nice and funny – was having a lot of trouble figuring out the math problems in class,” she says. “But the teacher was on the other side of the room. He gave up and threw his paper because no one would help him. After figuring out that he needs extra help in class with those kinds of things, they got someone to always be in the room with him whenever he needed help. The teacher got help too because he always got the help that he needed.” We’re always excited when debaters bring their personal experience to advocacy through debate!

Read more to learn about the arguments and evidence novices are using to advocate for increased special education funding!

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