Urban students learn the art of debate

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When most young people think about debate, they often have images of ponderous pontificating, not an exciting way to learn. (WLS)

When most young people think about debate, they often have images of ponderous pontificating and dogmatic discourse, not an exciting way to learn.

But we met some urban Chicago students who say debate has given them a new means of expressing themselves and brought them one step closer to achieving their dreams.

In a drill to improve articulation, students talk with pens in their mouths. These are members of the debate team at RTC Medical Prep, formerly Crane High, on the West Side. They are serious about the art of debate.

"To make sure what I'm saying, I can back it up with a lot of facts and different things, so I'm not just saying things based on my opinion," said Freshman Curtis Zion Abrams.

"Not only to be able to argue my point and let other people see my side, but hopefully convince other people that what I'm saying is reasonable," said Freshman Ezra Chavez.

The club is only three years old and already it is exposing these students to a whole new world and opening their minds to brand new ideas.

"I can see it in the cases my kids chose to argue," said Krsyzelda Mendoza. "It's a lot about race. It's a lot about their identity in this city as a young person here in Chicago or in society and it's really cool to see that they develop this through debate."

"Debate is really an accepting area to talk about culture, religion, all these different things under a certain umbrella they give you for the year," said Junior Ghania Imram.

"I was like, 'Wow I should be a good lawyer one day' because I was really making my point and my opponents were really perplexed," said Gabby Rose, a freshman.

Now this West side team is hoping to take it to the next level. They are working hard to attend the prestigious debate camp at Dartmouth University with young high school debaters from all over the country.

"The neighborhoods that some of my students come from there's not a lot of hope," Mendoza said. "And being able to send some of these students and them getting to say 'I belong at this type of school,' just gives them that motivation to go to college."

So far they've raised about half of the needed money with all kinds of campus fundraisers and a GoFundMe page, knowing the experience could change their lives.

"If I can get my students to college using debate as a platform, that's something that you cannot take away," said Mendoza.

In the three years this team has been together, Mendoza has sent members to camps at Northwestern, the University of Michigan and then Dartmouth last year.

All those who attended said it truly changed their lives.
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