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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The Debate YA Fiction Reading List

In honor of Teen Read Week, we’re highlighting young adult fiction about debaters! Even though you debaters are undoubtedly busy reading research to build your cases at this time of year, it’s good to take a break and enjoy a different kind of reading, too.

The theme of this year’s Teen Read Week is “Unleash Your Story”. Do the stories told in these books resemble your story? If you’ve read the books, did you like them? Let us know on our Facebook page! 

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How Debaters Will Save Democracy (In Their Own Words)

Four young debaters stand in front of a world map holding certificates of accomplishment.
Debate prepares students to be more engaged citizens of their community, their nation, and their world.

Distrust of democracy, governmental institutions, and fellow citizens is high for young people, making the need for civic learning greater than ever.

Researchers at Tufts University released a white paper this week entitled The Republic is (Still) at Risk– and Civics is Part of the Solution: A Briefing Paper for the Democracy at a Crossroads National Summit. In it, they warn that civic trust and civic engagement is dwindling for young people. This decrease is even more severe in working class and low-income people, who tend to live in “civic deserts”, or places where people perceive few to no opportunities to meet, discuss issues, or address problems. Almost one-third of urban and suburban residents see themselves living in civic deserts, and low-income youth of all backgrounds feel disconnected from civic life.

Although this eroding support for democracy is daunting, researchers have identified six simple steps to rebuild civic trust. Authors Peter Levine and Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg argue that “Civic learning, when done properly, is the best vehicle to train young people to sustain our democracy.”

Debate can be a powerful tool to help fulfill the need for civic learning. Research of the Chicago Urban Debate League from 2007 shows that compared to students who had never debated, urban debaters demonstrate significantly higher social conscience and civic commitment. Here at MNUDL, we’ve observed the same change –and hear it directly from students.

Read more to learn about the six most promising practices identified to increase civic learning, and from Minnesota Urban Debate League students on how debate is helping them become more civically engaged!

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Novice Packet Jumpstarts New Debaters

A novice debater reads his case while his partner flows the debate.

Each spring, policy debaters receive the topic that sets up their entire season. Previous topics have prompted students to become experts on places oceans away. The 2017-2018 policy topic asks students to debate about the place where they spend most of their hours each day: school.

This year’s policy resolution is: “Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its funding and/or regulation of elementary and/or secondary education in the United States.”

Changing education offers limitless opportunities for action. Varsity MNUDL students will interpret the resolution in unique ways to build their own cases for improving education. While endless possibilities can be inspiring, new debaters may not know where to begin. That’s why MNUDL provides a novice packet to introduce students to policy debate.

The novice packet includes all the resources novice students need to gain in-depth knowledge of three cases relevant to education. In each case, students will discuss why the government needs to make the change and explain several benefits to adopting their policy. To create the novice packet, a group of Minnesota coaches meets to discuss and vote on the top three cases to include in the packet, as well as the most compelling advantages. “We try to balance what we think will best uphold the resolution while also being interesting to students,” says MNUDL program director Jake Swede.

In one case, students will initiate a plan to fully fund and regulate a universal, public pre-kindergarten education program in the United States. In another, students will initiate a plan to increase funding and regulation for STEM programs, focusing on hiring women and people of color as teachers. In the final case, students will initiate a plan for the USFG to cover 40% of special education costs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Students will argue that implementing these policies would have far-reaching consequences. Some topic areas discussed will be economic growth, poverty, the school to prison pipeline, sexism, racism, and ableism.

The novice packet also contains resources for arguments against the cases. Students will learn how to articulate negative unintended consequences that may come from adopting each of these specific policies. They will also learn arguments that can apply to many other debates on topics like local vs. national control and government spending. The research will help students think critically about hot-button issues like economic growth, educational standards, and diversity in schools.

Watch for later posts with more information about these affirmative cases!

Jamie Snoddy Ignites Enthusiasm as Community Coach

Jamie Snoddy with her co-coaches and the Patrick Henry High School debate team.
Jamie Snoddy with her co-coaches and the Patrick Henry High School debate team.

Yesterday, Patrick Henry High School was abuzz at the debate team pizza party kick-off. Community coach Jamie Snoddy led a debate game to get students standing and speaking their minds. By the end of the kick-off, a spirited debate emerged on topics ranging from cat vs. dog superiority to climate change.

Jamie sees her younger self in these students. She began her lifelong love affair with debate as a student competing for Patrick Henry High School.

“I remember walking through this exact same school and being just as excited. I just think, ‘I was you!’” 

Jamie was thrilled to tackle the community coaching role. “Debate did so much for me and helped open my eyes,” Jamie says. “To be able to give that back to my high school and the kids is something that really motivated me to become a community coach.”

This competitive season marks Jamie’s second year coaching at Patrick Henry High School. Her enjoyment for coaching hasn’t come from the big moments. Instead, she relishes every little moment when the debaters’ enthusiasm shines through. “You see that you are helping them realize this passion you also have,” Jamie states. “My favorite moments are realizing these kids really like this, and knowing you helped them to like it.”

Some of Jamie’s goals for this season include retaining more debaters, generating interest from more students, and spreading the word. “Now that we have three main returning students, we can have a solid team culture. That’s what got me into debate,” she adds.

Although Jamie coaches after school, she spends most of her day as a linguistics major at the University of Minnesota. Jamie connects her college career with her experience in MNUDL. “Being in debate and being a linguistics major is linked with my love of the technicalities of language,” she states. “Debate is very tactical in that sense. You have to word things very particularly. You can have entire debates about it!”

After high school debate season ends, Jamie plans to resume competing on the University of Minnesota policy debate team. Right now, her highest priority is getting the Patrick Henry High School students ready for the year ahead.

Putting the students first is an important part of Jamie’s coaching philosophy. After experiencing a year coaching, Jamie has some advice for new coaches: “Being a coach is less about the teaching of debate and more about the scaffolding for your debaters. A coach is somebody who is there for moral support. The kids are going to beat themselves up enough over losing debates. You need to be there to help them realize their strengths and capitalize on that.”

Jamie hopes her students will look back at their debate experience like she remembers her own: with a smile.

“That’s all I want to give to the kids – good memories with debate.”