Monday, January 23, 2012

Edina SS: State Policy Debate Champions

Because debaters focus on one topic over the entire season, it is often said that the research involved in one year of policy debate is equal to the amount of research necessary for a Master's degree. Congratulations to these dedicated students and their adult supporters!
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper 

2011-2012 Policy Debate Topic
Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its exploration and/or development of space beyond the Earth’s mesosphere.

This heady resolution is the Policy Debate Topic for High School Debate in the 2011-12 season. This past weekend, the Edina High School Policy Debate Team "Edina SS" (Mimi Sergent-Leventhal and Erin Sielaff) won the Minnesota State High School League’s 2012 State Tournament.

If you have never seen a policy debate in person, it is a combination of quick thinking, quick speaking, cross-examination, strategy, and tension. I had the privilege of watching the final round of the state tournament on Saturday in Blegen Hall on the University of Minnesota’s campus. The first thing I noticed when I walked into the auditorium was that the room was freezing. I was unsure how the students were going to debate with chattering teeth. And no, unheated rooms are not as a rule part of debate: this just must have been one more cost-cutting measure by the University.

After we got settled in, we looked down to the front of the auditorium. Both finalist teams (Edina and Blake) were seated on opposite sides of a podium. Surrounding the Edina Team was the debate coaching staff: Sheila Peterson, Rohan Sadagopal, Chris Stinson, and Brett Lind.  Edina SS had the added benefit of help from EHS grad Trevor Aufderheide, who was a debate state finalist in 2010. The entire team was working fervently to create the best affirmative strategy for the resolution posted above.

Soon thereafter the debate started. Edina SS used a creative strategy to run a new affirmative argument that they had not previously presented. By doing this, they effectively had Blake scrambling to figure out the new argument and coming up with their own strategy to win. Although the students speak extremely fast (called Spreading – short for speed reading), with a little bit of concentration you can pick up the important parts of the debate. Personally, I really liked the cross-examination portions of the debate, as the students’ personalities were on display – much like a lawyer in the courtroom.

At the conclusion of the debate, both sides shook hands and then sat down to wait for the 5 judges to tally the ballots. The 5 judges do not coordinate their results. Each judge works by him/herself to decide which team did the best job: the affirmative or negative argument. After each judge had completed filling out the ballot, he (in this debate, all the judges were male) would hand the ballot to the “Man in the Suit.” The Man in the Suit would put the folded ballot into his notebook and head over to the next judge. It did take a while for the last judge to complete his ballot. He had some questions for the debaters and he worked methodically. Finally, he handed this last ballot to the Man in the Suit, and the awards ceremony was about to begin.

The ceremony started with the presentation of the quarterfinalists. This included "Edina MY" (Dustin Meyers-Levy and Jon Yang), the other Edina team to qualify for state. (Congratulations, Dustin and Jon, on reaching Quarterfinals in State!) At this point, my palms were sweating, as I knew after the Semifinalists were introduced we would finally hear the names of the State Champs. It was a very stressful moment and my heart was pounding! At long last we came to the final round, and the Man in the Suit announced that on a 4-1 decision Edina SS – Mimi Sergent-Leventhal and Erin Sielaff were the 2012 State Champions! I nearly burst into tears of joy - for those who don’t know me, I am a somewhat dramatic person and this was a very dramatic moment.

I am exceedingly proud of the students and coaches that make up the Edina Debate Team. They are a wonderful group of people. In addition, there should be no doubt about the quick thinking, public speaking, and problem solving skills these debate students acquire - at the 2012 State Tournament these skills were on full display.

Congratulations to Edina SS - Erin and Mimi on your State Championship! Congratulations to the Edina Debate Coaching Staff on a job well done. And thank you to the EHS and District Staff for their unending support!

We are all looking forward to next year.

(For more on debate, see this article in Wired Magazine featuring a photo of Erin Sielaff and a video clip of "spreading.")

Paula Sell, Chair
Edina Friends of Forensics Parent Board

Friday, January 13, 2012

Leave it to Aesop

Thank you to the student leaders of Dare 2 Be Real, who are leading these courageous conversations about race and culture among our students, staff and community.
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

“It is easy to be brave from a safe distance.”—Aesop

The aromas were a distraction, yes. Injera from Ethiopia, sfeehas from Lebanon, and churros from Mexico. The foods representing the cultural backgrounds of South View’s students lined three, 8-foot tables in the Media Center one crisp afternoon in early December.

But the olfactory sensations quickly receded into the background once the seventh, eighth and ninth graders in Dare 2 Be Real began to speak.

One by one around the circle they stood up, read a personal poem about their culture, sat down again. The students were African-American, Ethiopian, Hispanic, Somalian, Norwegian, or a hodge-podge of ethnicities too intertwined to sort out and claim any singular identity.

Some students emitted a nervous giggle during the reading, others fought back stinging tears, and there were, of course, the shifters - body weight first on the left leg, then the right, left, right…

But the circumstances around some of the poems were enough to make anyone squirm just a bit. Some have had racial slurs written on their lockers, been taunted in the halls, with anonymous phone calls, or in their neighborhood. Other students in D2BR haven’t been personally teased, but are there as support and to help make a difference in the school, and ultimately society.

Heritage aside, the kids in Dare 2 Be Real have one thing in common: A strong desire to enact change in a society that still struggles with true acceptance of all people.

“I am from long nights under the stars,” one girl from Tibet began. 

“I am from loud family gatherings and laughter, and here, eat some more!” another girl said.

The boy next to her set another tone in the room by saying:
     I sometimes am teased and made fun of at school,
     Why must I be Christian just to be cool?
     But still I am proud to be Jewish.
     I am thought of as being totally different,
     I can’t get away from these stereotypes.

One 8th grader threw a kink in the rope: “I am from no family dinners or traditions, I am from – I don’t know where I’m from – I am from chaos and confusion…”

And a handful of students proudly claimed European ancestry from the likes of Norway (lefse), Germany (bratwurst and sauerkraut), and Ireland (baked potatoes).

After each poem, the people in the circle affirmed the reader with a unified "ashe," a West African term that is comparable to "amen," or "so be it."

Dare 2 Be Real was initiated and developed at South View by Dr. Patrick Duffy and is in its third year at the middle school. The program is now the model for similar programs, slowly spreading throughout country.

Students apply to the program each spring for acceptance into the following school year. The students meet during homeroom each day and are led by Mrs. Kalinowski and Ms. Skaff. Dr. Duffy joins in from time to time to imbue the students with his passion for ethics and diversity.

D2BR’s mission statement reads something like this: “Dare 2 Be Real is a student community of anti-racist leaders interested in developing and understanding our individual and collective cultural and racial identity and committed to the acceptance and fair treatment of all individuals.”

If Aesop were alive today he’d be proud. These kids are standing up for themselves and others not by messenger, anonymously, or via social media. They’re speaking out face to face in the hallways at school and in our communities. They’re talking bravely about their feelings and experiences, regardless of how their candor will be met.

If Aesop were alive today, he could write about the courage of the youth of the D2BR programs across the country, so that all the world could follow suit.
You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

Julia Jergensen Edelman