The number of tournament debaters from Austin and VOISE Academies has exploded. The two debate teams, both on the Austin High School campus, have more than tripled their participation from last year and are now the top two CDL high schools (among 54) in participation growth from 2010-11 to 2011-12.
Both debate teams have also had competitive success. VOISE won an early season first-place team award and a recent Tournament Four Varsity Quarter-Finalist placement. Austin Academy won a 9th place JV Speaker Award at T4.
The growth in student interest and involvement in competitive academic debate on the Austin and VOISE campuses is especially notable in light of the high percentage of low-income students attending these schools. Like the Austin neighborhood itself –once a genteel upper-income area, anchored by the pastoral Columbus Park – Austin High School was once one of the city’s elite institutions.
But the past 40 years saw the neighborhood and the high school suffer a significant decline. In 2004 Austin High School was closed, to be replaced by three distinct CPS district schools: Austin Polytechnic Academy, Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy, and VOISE (Virtual Opportunities Inside a School Environment) Academy.
Collectively, these schools serve about 1,200 students – 94% Title I (from low-income homes) and 98% African-American. Two debate programs – one for the two Austin academies, one for VOISE – were initiated last year.
The Austin coaches feel that debate is having a positive impact on both students and the community:
“Debate at the Austin Campus has helped to change the stereotype of our culture. Our students may reside in urban areas, but they are still able to show the world they can debate about world issues. They can show the world they can read, write, understand, and critically think about solving obstacles the entire world faces. They may not have a voice at home, but at school they have learned their voices matter.”
— Daviea Freeman, Debate Coach, Austin Polytechnic Academy
“There is an art to arguing from evidence about public policy issues, and our students enjoy making this art their own. Without realizing it, they are using higher level cognitive skills to problem solve. Part of their getting energized for a tournament involves deciding how to hone their arguments; or how to create questions that will poke holes in their opponents’ arguments. The team has a sense of pride that carries over into our school, and to some extent into the Austin Community. I’m most proud of how these students have embraced debate and are tenacious about making themselves better debaters.”
— Bob Wysocki, Debate Coach, VOISE Academy
The Austin students echo their coaches’ enthusiasm:
“I joined the debate team because I like to get my point across. Debate isn’t just about arguing and yelling. You actually get a lot of knowledge from it. It increases your vocabulary, and forces you to get better at speaking. Debating made me a better person because instead of arguing about stuff that doesn’t matter, I found a place where I can argue about stuff that matters, and I can be heard.”
— Elise Ashley, 11th Grade
“Debate has strengthened my public speaking and produced confidence in myself. At first, it was boring because I thought you had to memorize these whole paragraphs, but then I went to a debate match. I had my eyes opened to something completely new. Debating isn’t just reading paragraphs off papers, it’s about applying personal knowledge to real life situations. I love debating and personally can’t wait till the next tournament.”
— Keta Allen, 12th Grade
“I truly love and respect debate because of the skills it gives me. Debate helps me read faster. And I know that later in high school and in college, I’ll write better papers because I know how to use research and evidence to support a point I’m making. And debate is fun – I really enjoy the arguing!”
— Derrick Barnes, 10th Grade
This inspiring group of forward-thinking and involved Austin youth are building a better future for themselves and their community through sustained dedication to their teams and the CDL. We are proud to see them improve their academic opportunities and find their voice through debate.