Incoming sixth graders at Lanier Middle School got a head start on picking up debate skills for the upcoming school year.
“These kids are going to be ready for competition before maybe some of the other sixth graders,” debate coach Franz Hill said. “We want them to develop confidence and learn the rudiments of putting together arguments and persuasive writing, and how to take initiative.”
Lanier’s debate team is consistently one of the top middle school teams in the nation. The school earned the Overall School of Excellence Award at the National Speech and Debate Association’s Middle School Tournament in June.
The camp gave students the opportunity to take sides on arguments, to learn research and communication skills, and figure out how to incorporate these skills to come up with creative arguments. These are all skills that will reach beyond debate and have a positive impact in the classroom.
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“A lot of times, debate students typically produce better work,” Hill said about performance on persuasive literary essays. “When they’re in social studies or American history, things tend to make a little more sense to them. They’re definitely more vocal and willing to engage and participate in discussions.”
One of the most important assets of the program is the debate team veterans who return to mentor the younger students.
“This program would not exist without years of debaters coming back to help,” said Rukmini Kalamangalam, a freshman at Carnegie Vanguard who began her experience in debate with the Lanier debate camp as an incoming sixth grader. “It wouldn’t be the same if people weren’t so invested in it. You have to have other people alongside you.”
“They have the benefit of experience,” Hill said about students like Kalamangalam. “They’re definitely a huge help because they have that credibility of having been there and done it. They serve as role models.”
Hill said he hopes to open the program up to other sixth graders in HISD next summer.
“There was a big demand just for students coming to Lanier, and there doesn’t seem to be another local camp that’s filling that need. I think parents realize there’s value in this camp, too, and I’m hoping that if we open it up to middle school students in the district, they’ll go back their middle schools, get debate teams started, and be inspired by it,” Hill said. “We really enjoy having this camp at Lanier and we just want to share that with others.”