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Coach Spotlight: Katia De Wit

Virtual Spanish Debate Offers Global Exchange 

Coach Katia de wit

How does a lawyer in Guatemala coach debaters in Minneapolis? It’s only possible through the virtual debate format. Katia De Wit is coaching Washburn High School’s Spanish Debate League team in Southwest Minneapolis during the COVID-19 pandemic! 


“I received an email from Jenna in February. She was looking for coaches and said that it would be 100% virtual,” Katia says, “I was interested. Because I don’t live in Minnesota anymore, being 100% virtual made it a lot easier for me to participate as a coach.”


Previously, Katia studied at St. Thomas while pursuing a law degree, which is where she became acquainted with the MNUDL as a volunteer judge. 


“One of the reasons I was so interested in coaching was because I saw the level of Spanish that the students had – and not just the level of speaking, but also the level of reasoning. It was impressive. I didn’t expect it!” – Katia 

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The Case for Financial Literacy Leadership Debate

Urban Debate student and judge
A financial literacy debate from Central High School shakes hands with a volunteer judge.

Guest post by Ella Reiswig, MNUDL Intern

They say money makes the world go round. Yet, while so much of our society is shaped by money, financial education isn’t something that is widely taught about in most school’s around the US. In fact, only 5 states in the US require that students take one financial literacy course before graduation. While one class is better than no class, that is simply dipping your toes into the pool. For students that come from low-income backgrounds, this gap is even more visible. At schools where over 75% of students were eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches, only 4% were required to take a personal finance class to graduate. While students from families with generational wealth receive informal financial literacy in their homes, others are excluded from this crucial knowledge.

Ironically enough, a large reason why financial education isn’t taught in schools is due to lack of funding. Teachers would need to go through extra training and perhaps there is a lack of staffing in order to be able to provide these courses for students. However, the evidence shows that financial literacy courses are worth the investment. 

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Alum Spotlight: Mariana Chavez


Mariana Chavez Portrait

How This Former “Shy Girl” Became An Advocate For Spanish Speakers

What do MN Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, Nobel Prize winning economist Elinor Ostrom, and Augsburg University sophomore Mariana Chavez have in common?

They all joined debate to overcome their shyness.

“I was a very shy child,” Mariana says, “Even though I loved reading and writing, it was very difficult for me to talk in front of people who weren’t my direct family members.” Paradoxically, that made her a strong candidate for the debate team. Most people think of debaters as great speakers, but reading and writing is actually key to winning rounds. Great debaters have a reputation for being skilled orators, but reading and writing are also an important foundation for success in the activity. Speaking skills can come through exposure if a student is bold enough to show up to their first practice. In 6th grade, Mariana braved her fear and joined the national topic debate team at Seward Montessori School.

Mariana soon found that practice was the best cure for fear. “I was able to gain confidence through consistent practices that allowed me to grow,” she says. But, she didn’t do it alone. “Learning the art of debate helped me foster relationships with coaches and peers that guided me. The skills carried with me throughout school and I use them everyday.” 

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Minneapolis South Places in Semifinals at Tournament of Champions

Clara and Gabe at desk
Gabe Chang-Deutsch (left) and Clara Conry (right) competed in the tournament virtually.

Minneapolis South High School’s debate partnership, Gabe Chang-Deutsch & Clara Conry, were Semifinalists in the Policy Debate section of the Tournament of Champions. Conry & Chang-Deutsch debated students from Bellarmine Preparatory Academy in Tacoma, WA during the semifinal round of the tournament.

In response to COVID-19, the tournament was held entirely virtually. The Tournament of Champions is hosted by the University of Kentucky. To qualify for the TOC, students must earn bids through strong performances at highly competitive tournaments during the season. Conry & Chang-Deutsch competed against many of the most competitive policy teams in the US, through octafinals, quarterfinals, and semifinals.

The policy debate resolution debated at this year’s tournament was: Resolved: The United States federal government should enact substantial criminal justice reform in the United States in one or more of the following: forensic science, policing, sentencing.

The following teams from the state of Minnesota also competed in Policy Debate at the Tournament of Champions:

  • Eagan HS – Li & Sen
  • Edina HS – Anderson McElligott & Atri

We’re sending them our congratulations, along with their hardworking coaches: Allegro Wang, Izak Gallini-Matyas, and Oskar Tauring Traxler.

Team Spotlight: Murray Middle School

Murray team members pose with Coach Dahlberg
The debaters at Murray Middle School shared with us what they took from this debate season.

The 2020-2021 Middle School debate season has officially ended! Our community has come together to deliver an amazing middle school season this year, virtually, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s middle school debate topic is police reform. It’s more important than ever for students in Minneapolis & St. Paul to have the opportunity to address this timely topic. Coach Eric Dahlberg has helped guide the debaters at Murray Middle School through this challenging year and complex topic.

Last week, we were able to hear from a few of the Murray Middle School debaters. Here’s what they had to say about their experiences in debate this season. 

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Team Spotlight: Sojourner Truth Academy

STA students
Kamarah & Rafael spoke to us about their experience in debate.

The 2020-2021 Middle School debate season has officially ended! Our community has come together to deliver an amazing middle school season this year, virtually, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In light of the ongoing Derek Chauvin trial, we must continue the conversation about this year’s middle school debate topic – police reform. Coaches Kate Olson and Ben Babcock guided their debaters at Sojourner Truth Academy through the virtual season, teaching them the art of debate and important information about police reform. Last week, we got the opportunity to hear from two of Sojourner Truth’s own, Kamarah and Rafael, and hear what they had to say about debate and their thoughts about police reform. Here’s what they had to say:

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Celebrate Our 2021 Middle School Coaches of the Year


Coaches of the Year
Congratulations to our 2021 Middle School Coaches of the Year: Melissa Hart & Eric Li!

This year has presented many unique challenges for students, teachers, and coaches. Between the highly personal criminal justice topic, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the adjustment to virtual learning, this has been a season like no other! On the whole, our coaches have handled the task with persistence and grace, but our program staff couldn’t give everyone the award. They chose to honor just two of our top coaches this season: Our 2021 Teacher Coach of the Year, Melissa Hart from Ramsey Middle School, and Eric Li, our Student Coach of the Year from Sanford Middle School!

We spoke to Melissa and Eric about their experience coaching during the virtual season. Check out their reflections on this season – and the value of debate in this moment:

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Team Spotlight: Ramsey Middle School

Ramsey Middle School
Ramsey Middle School is capping off an excellent season!

The 2020-2021 Middle School debate season is coming to a close! Our community has come together to deliver an amazing middle school season this year, virtually, during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Coach Melissa Hart is leading Ramsey Middle School’s committed and enthusiastic debate team. They’re addressing the challenging and complex topic of criminal justice reform while adjusting to the new, all-virtual debate format. 


Recently, we got the chance to sit down, virtually, and listen to what the students of Ramsey Middle School had to say about their experience in debate this season. We learned about their feelings on the topic, how they overcome struggles in debate, how they celebrate their victories, and more. Check it out below: 

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Team Spotlight: Sanford Middle School

Our middle school debate season is going strong! Thanks to your support, we’re able to continue providing programming for our middle schools 100% virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s middle school debate topic is police reform. It’s more important than ever for students in Minneapolis to have the opportunity to address this timely topic. Coach Rhonda Lund is helping guide the debaters at Sanford Middle School through this challenging year and complex topic.

Coach Rhonda Lund tells us:

“I have been coaching debate at Sanford ever since the very first year Minnesota Urban Debate League was established. By now I can’t imagine not coaching. There have been challenges with working online, but the experience is still really good for the debaters, and I am having a good time doing it.

My goal for my debaters is that they have fun and experience success. Many of them get a chance to have the thrill of winning, and then see the work and focus it requires to keep winning. This is a great experience for students, and watching them gain confidence and grow in their skills is very satisfying.”


What’s it like to be a virtual middle school debater this season? Learn more about the Sanford team members’ experience below.

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Celebrating Our Contest Honorable Mentions

How Would You Change the Criminal Justice System?

Honorable Mention Group
Congratulations to our Honorable Mention winners! Top left: Kairavi Chandra, bottom left: Lucy Slipka, Center: Libby Johnson, top right: Saachi Baldwa, bottom left: Amilia Pham

These Honorable Mention Winners Imagined Creative Solutions.

In response to the killing of George Floyd and the unrest that followed, our organization teamed up with the Star Tribune Opinion, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Minnesota Lynx to co-sponsor our Creative Criminal Justice Contest. We invited students ages 10-18 across the nation to submit their best ideas about how our communities can continue the hard work of responding to racial injustice in the criminal justice system.

Our MNUDL board judged the first round of essays and creative submissions and sent just 3 middle school and 5 high school entries to the final round of VIP Panel judging. Finalists were previously announced on the Star Tribune Opinion online and in print. Find the full list of winners online.

There were many outstanding entries. These five entries were the highest non-advancing scorers, and we want to share their creative ideas with you. They are our Honorable Mentions in the Creative Criminal Justice Contest:

High School Honorable Mentions:

Libby Johnson, Rockford, MN

Saachi Baldwa, Fremont, CA

Middle School Honorable Mentions: 

Amilia Pham, Bloomington, MN

Kairavi Chandra, Roseville, MN

Lucy Slipka, Prior Lake, MN

Read and watch their excellent entries below:

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