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Prall debate team earns high marks in city championships

Staten Island Live, June 27, 2017

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- In a world of texts and tweets, it's good to know the art of communication is not a lost cause.

The debate team at Prall Intermediate School (I.S. 27) in West Brighton earned top scores this month during the Middle School Quality Initiative Debate Championships in Brooklyn, where they tackled such weighty issues as gun control, genetic testing and solitary confinement.

The team of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders was declared "best on Staten Island." Ellie Vaserman and Justin Saltiel were top in Tier B and Ellie, an eighth-grader, earned the "top speaker" title.

The victories were even sweeter because Prall's debate team, led by English language arts teacher Shameka Norton, is just one year young.

During a victory lunch hosted by Prall Principal Matthew Barone at Cafe Del Mondo in Willowbrook, the champion debaters reflected on their techniques over penne vodka, eggplant rollatini and chicken parmesan.

"You have to be confident but never rude," explained team member Sukaina Shivji, 12, a rising eighth-grader. It's important to keep a cool head, "and you have to think on your feet when they come at you with questions."

"Debate teaches us to gather our thoughts first before speaking," she added. And she's relying a lot less on the conversational space fillers "like" and "stuff."

"I used to speak so softly," reflected sixth-grader Emily Lu. "Now it feels better to speak up."

Top speaker Ellie Vaserman, who heads to Staten Island Technical High School in the fall, appreciates how debating has helped her overcome shyness and teaches students to stay calm and steady even as the debate heats up.

"It's what you say that's important, not how loud you say it," Ellie explained. "It's about finding the right word to shut down an argument."

And being on the debate team sharpens research skills, they all agree.

Ellie will spend her summer participating in a youth swim team at Lyons Pool in Tompkinsville, a youth track team at Corporal Thompson Park in West Brighton, and working in daycare with the Summer Youth Employment Program.

The debate team at Prall is an afterschool program, meeting from 2 to 3 p.m. every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Coach Norton says the team will continue next year, and hopes her students will also compete in the bilingual portion of the championships.

The West Brighton school is one of 115 citywide participating in the Department of Education's Middle School Quality Initiative, which supports schools in developing literacy in young adolescents, ultimately preparing them for success in high school and college.

About The New York City Urban Debate League

Our mission is that every school should have a debate team and every student should have the opportunity to the best debate education opportunities. One of the most critical problems in education today is the academic and civic achievement gaps. Our solution is to provide the best college, career, civic, communication and community opportunities through year round academic debate. Each month we work with thousands of students and hundreds of schools. We support debate practices every day, debate centers every week, tournaments every weekend, workshops every month, debate camps all summer, and year round support for any student and teacher. We are one of the the city’s most award winning curricular and extracurricular programs. We have received awards from the White House, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Presidential Commission on the Arts and Humanities, National Institute for Museum and Library Services, The Social Index of Top 100 Nonprofits, BoardSource, Points of Light’s Civic Accelerator, Teach for America, and by the First Lady as “one of the top arts and humanities based programs in the country.” Why Debate? Debate teaches every academic skill and every academic subject. A Great Debater means a person who has the skills and confidence to lead, to speak up, to argue, to question, to read and write to right the wrongs, to know about the world around you, and to change the world around you.

The New York City Urban Debate League
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