New York City Urban Debate League
It doesn’t take visitors to the School for Law, Government and Justice long to figure out what the most popular extracurricular activity is at this small public high school in the South Bronx. Inside the school’s front door, a long glass-sided display case is crammed with hundreds of trophies, plaques, and medals—awards earned not by athletic heroes, but by the school’s champion debaters.
While this school has one of the most active debate teams in the area, it is not unique. Some 30 New York City public schools—many located in areas of high poverty and few opportunities—also offer students the chance to become “great debaters.” That’s thanks to the New York City Urban Debate League (NYCUDL), an organization that sponsors The NYC Great Debaters! and offers debate training, weekend tournaments, and summer debate camps—all at no charge to participants. The league is run by a group of passionate volunteers who are convinced that debate holds the key to young people’s academic and professional success.
“There is nothing more rigorous, yet more fun, than debate,” states Erik Fogel, executive director of NYCUDL. As students research debate topics, they’re exposed to ideas and disciplines rarely included in a standard public school curriculum—from philosophy and public affairs to law, ethics, and economics, he points out. And, as students formulate and practice their arguments, they strengthen writing, critical-thinking, and public-speaking skills.
The weekend tournaments, held on college campuses along the East Coast, further expand participants’ sense of possibility, by exposing them to college environments and by showing them that they can compete successfully against students from more privileged circumstances. Lenny Herrera, an 11th grader from the Baccalaureate School for Global Education in Long Island, who took first place in the New York City Championships and was a finalist at the New York State Championships, says debate has given him the chance to go up against some of the most prestigious high schools and debaters in the Nation. “This feeling of being able to compete with the best is what motivates me to debate and, ultimately, keeps me going to every debate tournament,” he adds.
You learn many skills that you can apply to your schoolwork, such as researching, argumentation, time management, and working well with others. As an individual, debate teaches you to stand firm by what you believe in.Zully Rodriguez, 10th Grade Debater, Dewitt Clinton High School, South Bronx, NY