When the new Ravenscroft Speech and Debate Club participated in their first competition earlier this year, they became part of a long tradition of high school debaters committed to mastering the highly structured events.
Students drawn to logic, oratory and the fine art of persuasion often see speech and debate as a natural outlet for their talents. Just ask Marianna Schantz '19.
"My interest in speech and debate began last summer when I went to Yale Young Global Scholars at Yale University," she said. "I began to fall in love with debate while incessantly arguing about politics and international affairs. I realized that Ravenscroft did not have a debate team, so I took the opportunity to start a club."
Marianna found an ally in teacher Melanie Spransy, who joined the History and Social Studies Department at the start of the school year. Spransy, who has had a passion for speech and debate since she was in high school, had told Upper School leaders during her job interview that she would welcome the opportunity to build a program at Ravenscroft. She enthusiastically agreed to serve as advisor for the club this year, with the hope of generating enough student interest to offer an elective course next year.
"Speech and debate is a lot of work," Spransy said. "The goal is to make this a competitive forensics team that is self-sustaining, with students advancing from one level to the next and growing the program from year to year. You need time during the school day to do that."
"We'd like to be able to offer four levels that allow students to begin to specialize in one particular event and develop and improve over time," she added.
While there will be no prerequisites for Upper School Speech and Debate I next year, Spransy may find she has a few experienced orators in her class, as the Middle School has been offering speech and debate classes for the last three years. Karen Westbrook, who teaches those courses, is pleased that her students will be able to continue to explore public speaking in the Upper School.
"The students and their talent and interest have fueled this new course, and I have been quite impressed with what I have seen thus far," she said. "It will be exciting to see this curriculum, and our students, continue to evolve."
There are plenty of opportunities for a program such as this one to make its mark. Under the auspices of the National Speech and Debate Association and, locally, the Tarheel Forensics League, teams can spend much of the fall and winter in local and state competitions before championships begin around February.
"A school of Ravenscroft's caliber can field a very competitive team," Spransy said.
She also pointed out that participation in a program such as the one she's building offers students significant benefits beyond the forum.
"I cannot overemphasize the fact that I am a successful adult because of my participation in high school speech and debate," she said. "It builds self-confidence, thinking and articulating on your feet, a drive to think critically about the world, and resilience and determination. You have to see the debate through. Each event lasts 45 minutes, and you have to stay in it no matter how it's going."
She added that the program is "not just for naturally talented kids. Everyone can benefit from what speech and debate offers. Plus, it overlaps with every aspect of Lead From Here. Students involved in speech and debate are citizen leaders."
Marianna agreed, saying, "One of the most important lessons I have learned through this club is that everyone deserves a chance for their voice to be heard. Debate truly empowers people to speak up and defend their beliefs."
At top, Speech and Debate Club members and advisor Melanie Spransy (far right) at their first competition.