The Practice Space at Kennedy High School

We love working with local schools, especially when we get to do multiple programs! At Kennedy High School in Richmond, we just wrapped up three different youth voice initiatives in and out of the classroom, including a Debate Team, a Speech Club for newcomers, and a Speech and Debate curriculum for English Learners.

Courage, competition, and pride

Kennedy Speech and Debate students making new friends at the Berman Speech and Debate Tournament.

Debate has a long history at Kennedy High and we are proud to be able to help bring back its legacy. In 1991, their long-time coach, David Dansky, was honored in the Speech & Debate Coach Hall of Fame, as retired teacher Mike Peritz reflects in a recent KQED article. While the program ended and has struggled to return, we are excited to bring back the team with the help of Kennedy librarian Ian Bader and our Executive Director AnnMarie Baines, working with the new generation of debaters over the past 4 years. They recently competed in the Berman Speech & Debate Tournament, which we co-hosted with El Cerrito High and named after Sanford & Catherine Berman, who taught and competed on Kennedy High’s Speech & Debate Team. This group of freshmen is made for debate! While they were nervous competing for the first time, they definitely got the hang of it and as they said to other nervous novices, “Go in without being as nervous as I was. Don’t overthink it.”

Building Connections and Strengthening Translation Skills

Kennedy Newcomer Club having “conversation practice” with each other during a club meeting.

Nearly half of Kennedy High students are English Learners, with many being “newcomers” to the country. As part of embarking on their English-learning journey, they are confronted with the ongoing challenge of swiftly translating thoughts in their minds and mastering their translation muscle. Our Speech Club for Newcomers focused on sharing stories and delving into real-life situations where English fluency is crucial. They spoke about navigating bus routes, running errands, asking questions to teachers, and connecting with English-speaking family members. They practiced storytelling, speeches, games, and discussions, where they could have fun practicing English with friends. Silvio, a tenth-grader, shared, “I appreciate having others like me who are also learning everything in English. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one who finds it difficult.” As Coach Diana Medina shared, “We formed deep connections while navigating the challenges of translating during conversations, and we had an absolute blast practicing this skill together throughout the semester.”

Podcasting brings student stories to life

Image 1: Mr. Porter coaches one student in the podcasting booth. Image 2: Capturing brainstorming for potential stories.

Having a voice and sharing personal stories shouldn’t be limited to after-school activities, so we also designed a Speech and Debate curriculum that affirms students’ cultural identities. We ended the year in teacher Zachary Porter’s English Language Development (ELD) classes, where we piloted a unit on podcasting. During this unit, students worked in teams to produce podcasts and explore the question: Why is it worth it to tell my story?

Their stories were incredible! From sharing their experiences immigrating to a new country to telling stories about their passion for soccer and cars, the podcasts carried meaning beyond a simple assignment. They loved their homemade “recording booth”, which was a sacred space for them made from padded moving blankets. Their final assignment took on a higher level of authenticity and engagement because students knew their work would be heard by an audience. Reflecting on the experience, Mr. Porter stated, “The result was my students created fully-produced podcasts! Students are very proud of their work—as am I!”

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