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Dallas Students Advance in Global Debate Contest

students
DUDA and Coppell High School debate teams | Image by DUDA/Coppell High School

Two North Texas debate teams have made it into the top 16 in a championship pitting teens from across the world against each other on public policy issues.

The “Sweet 16” in the 2023-2024 International Public Policy Forum (IPPF) debate competition was announced on February 19, with the Dallas Urban Debate Alliance (DUDA) and the Coppell High School team making the cut.

The 23rd installation of the contest organized by the Brewer Foundation and New York University started out with over 300 teams, all vying for an all-expenses-paid trip to the IPPF Finals in New York City on May 4 and the chance to win $10,000 as well as the Brewer Cup. The “Elite 8” selected for the final round will be announced on April 1.

All teams participating in the international competition have been flexing their oral and written debate skills on the topic “Resolved: Governments should provide a universal basic income.”

Universal basic income is a type of welfare program, typically without any work requirements or other conditions, in which people are given taxpayer money to spend on whatever they want. The policy has been piloted in Kenya, Finland, Namibia, India, and Canada.

In each round of the competition, teams are assigned either an affirmative or a negative position and then exchange essays advocating for their sides by email. These essays are later reviewed by a panel of judges, who select the winning teams.

In the latest round, DUDA beat out the Dialogy debate team out of Shanghai, China.

Guided by coach Evan Gilbert, DUDA programming director, the DUDA team comprises Andrew Mi from the School for the Talented and Gifted at Townview, Leroy Tamfu from the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy, and Steven Livingston from the School of Science and Engineering at Townview — all from the Dallas ISD. They meet once or twice a week via Zoom to work collaboratively on debate essays.

As Cindi Timmons, DUDA executive director, told The Dallas Express, the students “thrive on the ‘back and forth’ of the debate process and figuring out ways to make their ideas more persuasive.” Yet she stressed how their experience in debate also equips them with important tools for success, academically, professionally, and civically.

Noting that urban districts like Dallas ISD come with challenges, Timmons stressed how students who participate in debate tend to perform better than their peers, achieving higher grades and seeing better graduation rates.

The latest accountability report from the Texas Education Agency showed that only 41% of Dallas ISD students scored at grade level or above on the 2022-2023 STAAR exam, and nearly 20% of graduating seniors did not receive a diploma within four years.

Yet the lessons of debate persist after graduation as well, according to Timmons.

“Their participation equips them with a set of transformative and portable skills they can use in any profession they choose,” Timmons told the DX. “The advocacy skills they learn will help them become leaders in their communities. We have found that participation in high school debate translates into lifelong civic engagement and the ability to speak out on behalf of self and others.”

As for Coppell High School’s debate team, it made the top 16 after overtaking the BC Forensic League from Langley, Canada.

Some 78% of students scored at grade level on their STAAR exams during the 2021-2022 school year, and the district boasted a 99.6% on-time graduation rate.

Aali Shah, Akshita Krishnan, Anushree De, Effie Shen, and Tvisha Jindal are the star debaters and enjoy finding ways to make their ideas more persuasive in a competitive setting, as coach and teacher SunHee Simon told the DX.

“Debate is such an indispensable part of student growth in high school. It is no surprise that debaters are often at the top of their classes when they graduate. They also tend to surprise their professors with their time management, eloquence, and critical thinking ability once they get into college. All of these skills are central to being a competitive debater,” Simon said, referring to her own experience as a former high school debater.

“Many of my peers across all kinds of industries (computer science, engineering, law, marketing, and more) could easily say the same thing,” she added.

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