Carlsbad High School’s Award-Winning Speech and Debate Team
Dr. Ben Churchill, Superintendent of Carlsbad Unified School District.
Each year, the National Speech & Debate Association puts out its list of Top 100 Schools. This year it placed Carlsbad High School’s Speech and Debate team in the top 2% of speech and debate programs in the nation. Carlsbad High’s program ranked number 50 out of more than 3,500 high schools in the country.
Under the able direction of CHS teacher Minnia Curtis, CHS’s team is 90 students strong and continues to rack up awards and honors. Most recently the team in December won 1st Place Sweepstakes at the prestigious La Costa Canyon Winter Classic. First-place winners in their events were competitors Ed Burns (Lincoln Douglas Debate), Nisha Ahmed (Congress Presiding Officer), Sofia Charvel (Informative Speaking), Sierra Vakili (Humorous Interpretation), and Arjun Venkatesh (Extemporaneous Speaking).
Should the United States federal government prioritize reducing the federal debt over promoting economic growth? Provide military aid to authoritarian regimes? Impose price controls on the pharmaceutical industry? These are some of the issues that CHS Debate team members grapple with as they face off against teams from across the region, the state, and the nation. And then there are Speech students performing Humorous Interpretations such as 10 Ways to Survive the Apocalypse by Don Zolidis, or Dramatic Interpretations like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, or Redeployment by Phil Klay, and numerous extemporaneous speeches.
Matthew Krak, CHS’s Speech and Debate Co-President and Public Forum Co-Captain, said, “This program teaches students to speak confidently and to be informed. To be successful, students must research both sides of an issue, and be prepared to argue both sides. With what is going on in the world now, there are a lot of people who are so hung up in their perspectives. Speech and Debate allows me to converse without having to be right, and to try to understand the way people think. Maybe there is something in what they are saying. I never take a stand until I’ve looked at both sides.”
Co-Captain of Interpretation Events Sierra Vakili says, “Speech events are more like theater acting, except that you play all of the characters. Students take a published script (or write their own) and transform it into a humorous or dramatic performance, “popping” from one character to another. In the Parliamentary events, you don’t know what your topic is going to be. You have to keep up with the news, reading and listening to podcasts, and knowing the important numbers that support your argument so you can represent both sides of an issue, whether it is immigration, international trade, or the minimum wage.”
Participating in Speech and Debate involves lots of travel and plenty of hard work and preparation. But with 17 events to choose from, many students stay on for four years.
Sierra said, “With the wide variety events in Speech and Debate there is something for everyone, and there is an awesome team environment. We are all friends are on the team. When I first started I was so nervous, but I found that when you put in the work you build confidence.”
According to Ms. Curtis, “Speech and Debate is something unique—it is a micro community within the school. Team members work together. The more experienced members of the team are developing leadership skills as they mentor and support the younger students and take pride in their successes. The students are learning skills that are valued by colleges, such as how to think critically, do research, work as a team, and how to present their ideas with confidence, helping them to stand out on college applications.”
“Our world tends to be so divisive,” said Ms. Curtis. “Here you have to be open-minded, you have to look at both sides, and you come away knowing that the other side has value as well.”
Ms. Curtis, who serves as the Vice President, Curriculum, for the California High School Speech Association, wrote CHS’s UC-approved Speech and Debate curriculum. Oral Interpretation (Beginning Speech and Debate) is a Fine Art, and Advanced Speech and Advanced Debate are English electives.
Check out this extraordinary program at carlsbadspeechanddebate.weebly.com.