Esperanza Academy Middle School Students Become Master Debaters

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In the next couple of months, Esperanza will be working hard to to improve the lives of children in Hunting Park by proving that an Esperanza education is like no other in North Philadelphia. We are dedicated to empowering Hispanic communities through education, and one way we hope to do this is by completing our educational pipeline to provide a seamless learning experience from Kindergarten to College. We already have Esperanza Academy Charter High School and Middle School as well as Esperanza College, but we know that primary grades are the most critical learning years in any child’s life. Show your support to make #EsperanzaElementary a reality for children in Hunting Park. Share your stories about why an #EsperanzaEducation can make all the difference!

Last fall, Esperanza Academy Middle School Social Studies teacher Noelia Rivera started a debate team. The same month the team started meeting, they started competing, and soon after that, they started winning. In November, the debate team competed in the University of Pennsylvania’s Annual Voices of Philadelphia Debate Tournament and received second-place in the city-wide competition, advancing to the finals after winning in three preliminary rounds and semi-finals.

What’s most impressive is that these students tackle relevant and complex issues that even the most academically-inclined adults would find daunting. During their debate at the University of Pennsylvania, the resolution debated was “Resolved: Developed countries have a moral obligation to mitigate the effects of climate change.” The team took the affirmative position, positing that developed countries indeed have a moral obligation to mitigate the effects of climate change, because developed countries have largely contributed to the worsening of climate change as well as have the resources and technology to make the differences necessary to combat its negative effects.

“We are really proud of our students,” said Tania Diaz, Director of Instruction at Esperanza Academy Middle School, “Their hard work and efforts have paid off, this is only the beginning of many more successes for the team!” And she was right. Their success hasn’t stopped there.

In December, Yashiramarie Hernandez-Ramos tied with another student for the first-prize Top Speaker award at yet another city-wide competition. “It’s been amazing to see their confidence grow,” said Ms. Rivera, “and to see their critical thinking develop in school as a result. Debate kids are the ones who ask the thoughtful questions in class, who develop an amazing work ethic, who want to see both sides of an issue, who learn to think in more nuanced ways and learn to empathize with people and opinions that are different from theirs.”

Ms. Rivera understands more than most why debate clubs are a valuable tool for preparing students for the next steps in life:

“I was a shy kid my whole life, and participating in debate gave me a powerful opportunity to speak up and gain confidence. By the end of my high school career, I was an undefeated city champion. As a teacher, I want my students to have the same opportunity to experience the positive effects of debate. Once the kids had experienced the thrill of winning their first debate, they were completely self-motivated to do even better and work even harder. They prepare with each other after school, on weekends, as much as possible.”

It’s easy to see how competing in debate helps develop the work ethic and mental dexterity necessary to compete in elite universities and careers. Ms. Rivera’s students will enter the world with a skillset unlike many of their peers in the same circumstances. Teachers like Ms. Rivera are what make the difference in an Esperanza education.