Get to Know Poe Classical School’s First-Ever Rookie Debate Team
STUDENTS | March 19, 2021
Get to Know Poe Classical School’s First-Ever Rookie Debate Team

This past year, a group of sixth- and seventh-grade students at Poe Classical School convinced their principal to add a debate team as an extracurricular activity—something the school never had before. The newly-formed team spent hours memorizing their speeches and forming arguments and rebuttals, all while infusing every practice with humor, wit, and collaboration. 

Now, at the end of their first year, the team has more than succeeded—the top four rookie pairs at the Middle School City Championship all came from Poe. Congratulations to all the students: Aliyah C., Amira M., Aubri R., Brianna W., Bronson S., Christian S., Kendall B., Sarah B., Zaire G., and Zoy F. Meet the team and their coaches below! 

Sixth-grader Aliyah C. says she didn’t know anything about money bail—this year’s topic—before starting debate, so she focused on learning vocabulary words related to the topic and determining the right information to pull out of a text to craft her rebuttals. She believes she’s improved most this year in supporting her claims during cross-examination, a skill she says will come in handy when asking her parents for a favor. Here’s her advice to other students looking to start a debate team:

Sixth-grader Bronson S. had a very strong season, finishing in as one of the city’s top three individual speakers and top three pairs with her partner Aliyah. After this year, she wants to continue debating and knows that it will be a great skill to put on her resume in the future. In terms of debating online, she believes that—like most topics—there are both positives and negatives.

If sixth-grader Sarah B. could change anything about debate, she says she would want to extend the cross-examination time because that is her only opportunity to directly say that her opponent is wrong. As one of the students who pushed hardest for a debate team, she thinks her team had an amazing season and says she knew that Poe would win because the team is so argumentative (in a good way). Want to know her secret to working well with a partner?

Kendall B., a sixth-grader and Sarah’s teammate, says that her mom told her to never be afraid of the word no, advice that she’s used throughout her year on the rookie debate team. A skill that has been particularly important for her has been research since, like Aliyah, she didn’t have much background knowledge about money bail before this year. While her extensive research helped her answer most of the questions thrown her way, she had a strategy when she didn’t know an answer:

One way the team prepared for competition is through “debate tennis,” an activity where two people with opposing viewpoints debate back and forth. When given the option to debate refrigerators versus microwaves, seventh-grader Zoy F. would choose microwaves every time. He’s improved his debate skills this year by proactively identifying his areas of weakness with his partner and finding ways to maneuver around them.

Even before the debate season started, sixth-grader Aubri R. understood the importance of teamwork when she worked to get debate added as an extracurricular: multiple students worked together to have their voices heard. She’s steadily improved as a debater throughout the year, even getting the opportunity to move up from the practice team to the competition team.

Advice from a coach that has been particularly helpful for seventh-grader Amira M. has been to keep “pulling the string” on her opponent’s argument until it unravels. If she was presented with a difficult topic, she says she would build out a list of pros and cons and try to use any background knowledge she already has to build an argument off of. An area that she’s improved on this year has been her rebuttals.

Seventh-grader Brianna W. admits that she had no idea what she was doing at first when she joined debate, but she practiced and practiced her cross-examination tactics and worked to make her rebuttals longer and more effective. While much of debate is an individual competition, Brianna explains that you can never underestimate the importance of good teammates:

Ms. Agboola is a teacher at Poe and one of the two debate coaches this year. She believes her team deserves to be recognized for all of their hard work. She’s noticed her team’s hard work pay off in their impressive strides in reading comprehension, as they’ve even been able to understand complex texts that many adults would struggle with. She hopes that their confidence only continues to grow in the future.

Mr. Hathaway already knew many members of the team as their English teacher, but he says getting to know them on a new level as their debate coach has been a highlight of his time as Poe. He’s been especially impressed by the level of dedication that each student has put into being on the debate team, which he believes is a reflection of the community that they have built.

Ms. Agboola and Mr. Hathaway hope that members of the current team remain on the team next year as leaders to help a new group of students become better debaters. Eventually, the goal is to make debate a thriving extracurricular that students can participate in from fifth through eighth grade. All future success will be able to be traced back to this current team, a committed group of peers and friends who were able to bond over a shared goal and reach that goal together.