Champion debaters P.Holsted, M. Kennedy, C. Shear, R. Hagood, J. Hester, and O. Panchal. Two-time state champions Holsted and Shear recently represented Heritage Hall at the prestigious Tournament of Champions. Holsted, Kennedy, Hester, and Panchal will represent the school and state at nationals this summer.
Many thoughtful words define 21st century education: relevant, global, collaborative, engaging, to name a few. Add challenging, competitive, and strategic, and you've defined Heritage Hall's debate program.
For the past 40 years, Heritage Hall debaters have traveled across the state and throughout the nation, creating a name for themselves and making debate one of the school's cornerstone programs.
"Our debaters employ the hallmarks of 21st century education – critical thinking, data mining, pattern recognition, digital literacy, civil discourse, bias perception – on a daily basis. Researching current issues, they are conversant in ethics, morality, social justice, leadership, and environmental wellness," debate coach Bryan Gaston said.
This model has served the program well. Heritage Hall has won a debate state championship 15 times since 1975 (nine since 2000), has qualified a team for nationals in all but one year since 1985, and consistently qualifies teams for the prestigious Tournament of Champions.
Colleges and universities have taken notice: Heritage Hall debaters are recruited by Harvard, Dartmouth, Northwestern, Emory, Georgetown, and others. Even for students not interested in debating at the college level, incentive remains for pre-college debate. In the article Forensics and College Admissions, longtime educator Minh A. Luong writes: "Colleges now acknowledge, based on years of experience, that students who demonstrate success in extracurricular activities which give them real-world skills – like critical thinking, oral and written communication, and the ability to organize ideas and present them effectively – perform better in college." He cites a Wall Street Journal report stating that dedicated participation in drama and debate has significantly increased the success rate of college applicants at all schools which track such data. According to the report, state and national award winners have a 22 to 30 percent higher acceptance rate at top tier colleges, and being captain of the debate team "improved an applicant's chances by more than 60 percent compared with the rest of the pool."
This trend isn't breaking news to coaches like Gaston, who have built programs with this in mind. "It's important to begin grooming debaters in middle school," he says. "The primary goal is to prepare students as contributors to the team's success in coming years. Middle school students learn the basics through simple debate in a fun and exciting atmosphere. As upper schoolers, they are introduced to competitive policy debate where they learn the format of a debate round, the different types of arguments, how to speak with confidence, and how to research and prepare arguments."
Advanced students learn to organize evidence, write briefs, construct arguments, discuss debate theory, strategize about competitions with other squads, and learn to function as a team. While furthering their persuasive communication skills, they become experts in different topics of analysis.
Armed with knowledge gained from hours of research and training from countless practice rounds, the debate team takes their arguments before judges in tournaments from coast to coast. These travels give students exposure and a chance to be recruited. The trips also serve as unofficial college visits, giving students a first-hand look at different colleges.
Without question, debaters use the skills they learn in college and beyond. Heritage Hall's program is unrivaled in the state, and will once again send a team to represent the school and state to nationals in Dallas this summer.