Students Debate, Learn Life Skills

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By Sara Hall | NB Indy


Students from Newport Beach had a few heated arguments with other local students last week.

The kids were part of the debate team from Pegasus School that met other teams from schools across Orange County for the first debate tournament of the school year.

The event was a “scramble” tournament, said debate coach James Conti, meaning the students were mixed up and placed on teams with students from other schools.

The students from Newport Beach include: Nazpari Aydin, Benjamin Chadwick, John Drayton, Claire Dwyer, Cameron Hamidi, Olivia Jaber, Niki Nourmohammadi, Ellie Pietsch, Nikki Pievac, and Karen Wang.

Most of the student debaters range from 12 to 14 years old.

The students knew the subjects of the scramble debate for several weeks prior, but did not know who their teammates would be or what side of the issue they would be arguing for. The topics the students discussed were: On average, does advertising do more harm than good; should junk food be banned in schools; and should the U.S. reinstate the draft?

“Some of the kids were really nervous,” Conti said. “All things considered, I think they did quite well.”

Participating in debate helps the students learn public speaking, critical thinking, and listening, Conti said, as well as research skills and how to identify and cite the evidence.

They benefit through collaboration as well, he added.

The team is part of the Middle School Public Debate Program, which is a community service and educational enrichment initiative of Claremont McKenna College and the Claremont Colleges Debate Union. The middle school debate program is the world’s largest program for class and contest debating in the middle grades, according to the program’s website.

There are six teams in the Orange County league of the debate program, Conti said. Approximately 80 students participated in the scramble on Saturday, he said, and a few of his students were on teams that placed 7th, 9th, and 10th. The kids were in groups of three.

The judges, who are trained by the debate program, evaluate the quality and impact of the arguments, said Conti, and how well the other side refuted.

Eventually the winning teams will go on to state and national tournaments. There are team and individual champions, Conti said.

The team’s next debate will be Dec. 12.

Conti said he would like to see the program expand to a bigger scale with more kids.

“It catches so many skills,” Conti said, “which are really, really important at this developmental stage in their life.”

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