High School Speech and Debate Programs Build Student Confidence

November 9, 2020 — Midland High and Lee are known for their prowess in athletics, but there's another place where they excel: at the podium.
Both high schools offer speech and debate programs that prepare students for success by teaching the arts of oration and persuasion.
"Speech and debate prepare you for life," said Joshua Wimberley, head of Lee's speech and debate teams. "A good orator — whether on stage, behind a lectern or even in a one-on-one conversation — is working to persuade an audience. Persuasion is a critical component of communication, and we teach our students through speech and debate how to write, research, speak and persuade so they can be successful communicators."
Students have many opportunities to perfect their oratory skills. Those with a knack for argument can participate on teams in policy, congressional and parliamentary debate competitions. There's also Lincoln-Douglas debate, where students compete one-on-one and which is the style Midland High particularly focuses on.
"The competition topics in Lincoln-Douglas center around values, and our students enjoy being challenged to thoroughly analyze a topic and craft arguments for all ideological sides," said Bradley Boyce, head of Midland High's speech and debate program.
Students can compete in a number of speech competitions, as well, such as original oratory, oral interpretation, informative oratory and persuasive oratory. No matter which oratorical avenues a student pursues, all help make them more curious about the world and satisfy their thirst for knowledge.
"Speech and debate teaches students to read all information for content and how to read between the lines to find the intent of a statement," Wimberley said. "These are particularly important skills to have when navigating the flood of content on social media. Students learn to read and research far beyond the headline."
Speech and debate also builds confidence in students. According to The Leaguer, the official publication of the UIL, a 2015 national survey of speech and debate coaches revealed that these programs help students find their voice, ignite their ambition, promote self-advocacy and spark a willingness to try new things.
"Students learn to express themselves in a constructive way," Boyce said, "Speech and debate open perspectives and force students to dig deeper into what they might not otherwise think about."
Lee recently competed in a regional meet against district 2-6A schools. Rebel debaters placed first through fourth and also took the sixth spot. The UIL is still conducting competitions but in altered form because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many competitions will require students to record their presentations for submission to judges.
"I couldn't be prouder of our students and how they haven't let the disruption of COVID-19 slow their drive to be successful," Wimberley said, himself a former high school debater. "But these are characteristics that speech and debate instill in students when faced with a challenge: improvise, adapt and overcome."
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