By DAVID VOEGELE
Executive director, Essex CHIPS

For the first time in many years, there is a Speech & Debate Club at Essex High School. The high school administration was very receptive to the idea of offering this opportunity to students, when first suggested a few months ago by Justin Hoy, Director of Prevention Services at CHIPS. It just so happens Justin was a Maine state champion in Speech & Debate in his long-ago youth. He is now the Coach of the EHS team, which is recognized by the National Forensics League.

Fatima Khan

The new EHS club has already participated in four events sponsored by the Vermont Debate and Forensic League. As a result, the Essex community now has at least one new rising star in this challenging interscholastic competition. After finishing 2nd in her first three tournaments, Fatima Khan (15 years old) won 1st place in the Original Oratory category on December 8th in South Burlington.

I asked Fatima why this new club at EHS was of interest to her. She responded, “I joined the Speech & Debate Club because I believed it would allow me to grow my skills in public speaking, communication skills, and critical thinking. Also, because I love to talk. Forensics has really allowed me to advocate for issues I care about, and spread awareness. I also have gotten a chance to listen and learn from other people.”

The competitive category in which Fatima has excelled is Original Oratory, for which a student must prepare, memorize, and deliver a 6 to 8 minute speech. The speech should be persuasive, and try to change attitudes and/or advocate action. According to the National Speech & Debate Association, “Original Oratory is not simply an essay about the topic—it is a well-researched and organized presentation with evidence, logic, emotional appeals, and sometimes humor to convey a message.”

Fatima explained why she felt this activity would help her. “This is preparing for the future because it teaches valuable social skills like public speaking, and communication. It also teaches self-confidence and leadership, which are things you need for any field.” What career field did she envision for herself I asked? “After high school, I want to go to medical school. I am an aspiring neurosurgeon. That’s always been my goal.” How did she feel the community/school supports teens? “The school community is always there when you need support. They try their best to help you in every way possible, and are really motivated to help you succeed. They make sure you feel safe and welcome, and are part of the community.”

Fatima is an articulate and talented 9th grader who is supported by her family, school and community. She has a positive vision for her future. The layers of support for Fatima reinforce her belief in herself, and in a positive future. These are essential elements of “positive youth development” – and of what it means to be a Quality Youth Development community.