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The Los Alamos Middle School debate team, otherwise known as the Junior Hilltalkers may be just over a year old, but they are acting like old pros, chalking up high scores in most speech and debate competitions they enter, according to Sherri Bublitz, their teacher and coach.
At a recent speech and debate competition at East Mountain High School in Sandia Park, they combined forces with the Los Alamos High Hilltalkers and the entire team managed to score second place overall against the 10 schools that took part in the competition.
Along with the high school Hilltalkers, the middle schoolers competed in four types of debate: “congressional,” “Lincoln/Douglas,” “public forum” and “policy,” a type of debate that the U.S. Congress commonly uses, Bublitz said.
The team also excelled in the speech categories.
The team even had a first place winner in the “humorous interpretation” category, where LAMS student Trevor Nickless did his interpretation of Eric K. Kimmel’s “The Three Samurai Cats.”
Nickless picked the story after realizing one of the book selections was a favorite of his he had at home. The popular book is a Zen meditation on how taking the unconventional approach to a problem can sometimes be just as effective as going the regular route.
“This one kind of clicked,” Nickless said. For the competition, he had to memorize the whole story and “play” the characters in the book for the panel of judges. Nickless thinks what impressed the judges the most was that he memorized the book well and he had to do a lot of physical action, also. “The book had a lot of people in it,” he said.
The Junior Hilltalkers compete in about six to seven debate and speech competitions a year. Main judging points include presentation, how well you back up and support your point or contention and showing respect for your opponent’s point of view.
According to Bublitz, the students cannot learn these skills too early. The debate team has always been around as an elective, but it was only recently that Bublitz partnered with Los Alamos Speech Coach Margo Batha, to introduce the LAMS Hilltalkers to formal competition.
Learning how to present an idea, researching a topic and giving a presentation in front of an audience are skills that are a part of the Los Alamos School District’s core curriculum, so the teachers thought it was important for the middle school students to take things to the next level, she said. Also, learning how to debate and give speeches also teaches students skills that will serve them well in life, long after the competition and awards are over.
“We believe speech and debate are both life skills, That you are gaining confidence in speaking and standing in front of people and being able to express yourself succinctly, clearly and in a manner that makes people understand what you want them to understand,” Bublitz said.
She also said competitive speech making and debating also teaches them what may be the most important lesson of all: respect for people who may have a different point of view than them.
“It’s OK to have an opinion and it’s OK for them to have an opinion but we can talk about it without getting so angry with each other that we don’t talk to each other when we’re done debating,” Bublitz said.