Taking On the City, One Argument at A Time

FLA Debate Team finishes season as City Champion


“Everybody wants success,” chants Foreign Language Academy debate coach Charles Palmer.

“But nobody wants to put the work in,” respond debate students.

When Palmer first began teaching at FLA, he started this chant as a reminder to students that they need to be willing to put in the work to earn their success. This year, the debate students at FLA have proven once again they are not afraid of putting in the work, all in an effort to achieve both individual and team success.

This year, the FLA team has taken first place in every tournament except one; for that tournament, they were missing half of the team due to illness but still finished in second place. Each tournament gives students an opportunity to practice and hone their skills for the ultimate challenge – the Debate KC City Championships at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The practice paid off. For the second year in a row, the FLA Debate team was named the overall City Champion.

Taking on the city.
Since the beginning of the debate season, six FLA students have been ranked in the top 20 of the Middle School Congress division. No stranger to competition, seventh grade student Nadia Richard has held the rank of number one since the first set of rankings were revealed. At the championships, Richard finished in first place and was named the City Champion of Student Congress.

“Debate gives me the ability to voice my opinion,” Richard said. “Sometimes people feel scared to voice their opinion, be it in government or school. Debate has given me the skills to speak confidently with informed opinions.”

FLA Debate competes in two distinct categories: Student Congress and Policy Debate. In Student Congress, students develop arguments for or against a proposed bill, similar to the format in the U.S. Congress. Debaters speak either in favor or opposition of the bill. The debate is followed by questions or cross-examination.

At the Debate KC tournament, nine of the 10 FLA debaters made it to the semi-finals with four students finishing in the top 20:

  • Nadia Richard – City Champion of Student Congress
  • Russell Smith – 6th Place
  • Sophia Herrera – 7th Place
  • Sam Ardiles – 20th Place

“I enjoy being a part of the debate team,” said Herrera, a seventh grade student at FLA. “It gives me confidence and has helped my public speaking skills.”

In Policy Debate, teams of two debaters construct arguments, provide rebuttal speeches and offer cross-examination questions. Awards are given to both teams and individuals who perform well in speech events.

Debaters competed in two different divisions at Debate KC. In the novice division, two FLA students have been ranked in the top 10 of Middle School Novice Speakers, including Asani Pugh. He, along with his debate partner Julian Camarillo, made it to the quarterfinals and finished in fifth place. Isaac Lainez and Noah Miller made it to the semifinals and finished in third place.

In the varsity division, two FLA students placed in the top 10 in the Best Speaker award category:

  • Victor Santana – 6th Place
  • Chris Frye – 7th Place

More to debate than just arguing.
Now in his 11th year in education, Palmer teaches both debate and social studies. But debate has a special place in his heart.

FLA teacher and debate coach Charles Palmer.

“While in high school, I had to choose between debate or another elective and debate sounded cooler,” Palmer said. “I quickly discovered debate is a sport – yes the uniform is a suit and tie, but it’s still an academic sport.”

Palmer was a successful debater, competing in the national championship. However, debate was always more than just the success of winning.

“I truly appreciated the team camaraderie and the excitement of competing with friends,” Palmer said.

The argument for debate is more than just improved self-confidence and public speaking. For urban students, the advantages of participating are evident in graduation rates, grade point averages and more. The benefits include:

  • Debate students are 40 percent more likely to graduate high school
  • Debater GPAs are on average .20 higher than peers
  • Critical thinking is improved by 44 percent
  • Debate students are 70 percent more likely to reach ACT benchmarks in reading

“Participating in debate has helped me become more knowledgeable of today’s relevant topics,” eighth grade student Keion Gines said. “I know what’s happening in the world and can speak confidently about a subject.”

“Debate offers so many benefits,” Palmer said. “They learn how to research a subject, see both sides of an issue and are generally more informed. It’s truly an important skill for students and I hope debate teams throughout all of our schools can flourish.”

Visit the DEBATE – Kansas City website to learn more about debate programs in this region.