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Inside Report: El Cerrito's Camp for High School Speech and Debate

The Speech and Debate Camp at El Cerrito High, now in its third year, drew high school students from around the East Bay earlier this month for two weeks of concentrated training and practice in public speaking and debate.

On the morning of August 11, passers-by to El Cerrito High School would have been quite surprised by what they saw: 40-plus teens dressed in professional business attire making their way into the high school, all during their summer vacation!

The reason?

They were participating in a mock forensics tournament, the culminating event of the school’s third annual two-week Speech and Debate Camp. Students spent the full seven-and-a-half hour day competing in events such as policy debate, parliamentary debate, original oratory, dramatic interpretation, impromptu speaking, and humorous interpretation. Events were judged by student aides, team coaches and volunteers, and trophies were awarded in each event at a special parent night the following evening.

The camp is the brainchild of former El Cerrito High debater and San Francisco State Assistant Professor of Education, AnnMarie Darrow-Baines. “The goal of the camp,” as Darrow-Baines notes, “is to introduce students to the basics of debate, bring the team together and make it fun for everyone! We try to help everyone feel comfortable and get them ready for the year of competition.”

The camp is partially subsidized through a grant from the school’s James Morehouse Project as well as a modest registration fee. This year’s camp had the largest enrollment to date, with over 40 students attending from public and private schools throughout the East Bay.  Both experienced speech and debate coaches, including Darrow-Baines, ECHS Head Coach Darrell Kinney, and Jonathan Bender, as well as ECHS Varsity debate team members, coached students throughout the camp.

"The camp is a great experience and it never felt like work," says Maddie Berger, an ECHS Varsity Debater. "Being a part of the team is not only fun but it has also helped me to become a good presenter and feel much more confident about my public speaking abilities."

In fact, according to the National Forensic League, participation in speech and debate programs greatly enhances “intellectual curiosity, literacy skills and critical thinking at the highest levels.” (“Advocating Debate and Speech Education,” NFLonline.org).

The El Cerrito High School Speech and Debate Team has been in existence since 1965. The team, which receives no funds from the school district, is preparing for its 46th competitive season at El Cerrito High School.  After sending two students to the California State Tournament and one student to the National Tournament last year, the team has high hopes for the coming speech and debate season.  “The team has a lot of talent and energy going into the tournament season,” commented head coach Darrell Kinney.

At the end of the camp, students were proud of what they had accomplished in the camp and were looking forward to being a part of the team during the school year. Team member Junior Rebecca Dao summed it up when she said, “I absolutely love the camp because it is a great way to not only boost my public speaking and social skills, but the team becomes like a big family.  I have met so many great friends and learned so many skills while being part of this team!”

Team members will train both during and after school and compete in tournaments throughout the Bay Area all year.  The team raises all of its own funds in order to send students to tournaments, prepare them through coaching sessions, and to cover transportation. 

To learn more about the team, contact ecforensics@gmail.com. To make a donation to the team, make checks payable to Friends of ECHS Forensic and mail to ECHS Forensic, c/o Leslie Cohen, 7719 Curry Avenue, El Cerrito, CA  94530.

Emily Hayashi Groves is an ECHS junior and member of the Speech & Debate Team. Leslie R. Cohen is parent president of the Speech & Debate team, WriterCoach volunteer and mother of a sophomore varsity debater.

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