A High School Debate Team's Story

debate MeetingA bus filled with members of the debate team from Zapata High School in South Texas drove more than 500 miles to the Metroplex in Dallas, Texas, to attend the workshop of a CFC-supported organization.

Zapata is a small Texas border town where one in three live below the poverty line. For years, Zapata’s debate team could never advance past the early rounds in a tournament because expensive but necessary resources, such as  expert coaching, were simply beyond their means. 

However, thanks to the free online resources and workshops that are available to low-income and geographically isolated debaters and coaches through this CFC-supported organization, the students were able to attend the organization’s workshop – which proved to be extremely worthwhile. 

Using the techniques they learned at the workshop, the students went on to claim the District 31-AAA Debate Champion title. With the help of this organization, these kids went from an average local team to a thriving group of district champions. 

The Zapata debate coach was very appreciative of the assistance: “Thank you for helping make our goal of breaking in the round of eight finalists. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the teaching and evidence!”

Because of their success in competition, the Zapata team wanted to share their experiences with peers, and they spearheaded the creation of a new debate circuit across Texas where students can debate via videoconferencing technology. 

“[The] workshop helped us to network with different schools and teachers to begin this new circuit,” one student said.

Numerous studies show that debate can help students improve academically, mentally and socially. Through debate, students develop minds that stay open to diverse perspectives, as well as gain in-depth research skills, a well-rounded understanding of the issues and the ability to “disagree without being disagreeable.” 

The competitive aspect of debate also provides a concrete model for demonstrating the value of hard work in determining future success. Most strikingly, the average graduation rate is 42 percent amongst students who are at the highest risk of dropping out. Yet, the graduation rate for this same group jumped to 72 percent for those students participating in a debate program.

Debate students from under-served communities are also 89 percent more likely than their peers to enroll in a four-year college or university after high school. Whether looking at high school GPAs, reading levels, standardized test scores, college enrollment rates or college graduation rates, debate has been shown to create major improvements for all students, but especially those from disadvantaged schools.