Features Issue 6 Magazine

Speech and Debate During Covid

By Jack Abells

Graphic by Susan Rahimi

Since the closure of campus a year ago, every class has been forced into situations that they all have to adapt to in their own ways. The Speech and Debate Team is in a unique position since it has only become an official course this year. It began last year as an after-school club, and as its popularity grew, so did its status. 

“This is the first year our team is actually a class during the school day, where students get credit for their hard work,” said Ms. Reeves-Hampton, the Head Coach of the Speech and Debate Team. “I am figuring out how to help the rookies learn the art of speech performance and debating while also challenging the veteran speakers all on a screen and in so few minutes. We’re a ‘beginners-are-welcome team’, and since there’s no experience needed, we all help each other as we go. To be honest, the students can guide each other the best since they are the ones who’ve experienced competition first hand.”

For students, debates are done on Zoom now. Rebecca Joseph, Speech and Debate Team member since 2019, commented, “[The class] is pretty much operating the same way, just on Zoom. For instance, last year we had speech groups where we would practice, perform, and edit each other’s speeches. This year we have just moved those groups onto breakout rooms on Zoom. Similarly, mock debates are just done through breakout rooms.”

As with any class, Speech and Debate is faced with unique challenges during COVID, “Ironically, communication is a challenge. The team officers are incredible, and it couldn’t be done without them,” said Reeves-Hampton. There is an inherent obstacle to the class and planning out its lessons since much of it was based around being in person. Joseph added, “I am glad we are online as it is safer this way, but I truly miss going to physical locations to compete. There’s a nice kind of intimacy when you are able to see the people you are speaking to. Another aspect that has been taken from the team due to circumstances is the family bond that we were able to cultivate last year.”

However, Reeves-Hampton argued that the connection between the team is not gone. “Speech and Debate and Public Speaking are such supportive groups, and this is a time when we need support, the connection seems to really still be there,” Reeves-Hampton said, explaining the ways the class is not without benefits during COVID. “I’ve always suggested to students that they videotape themselves to see how they really come across.” Even if the class may have issues with communication over Zoom, the education of the subject is not lost. “As the year progressed, we have become more accustomed to online school and have been able to be just as effective in the learning aspect as in the previous, more ‘normal’ year,” said Joseph. 

When looking to the future, Reeves-Hampton still sees the team in its youth. “The team feels like a four-month-old infant. It’s at that sweet spot where it’s sitting up by itself and starting to get moving on its own but will need lots of monitoring for the coming stretch ahead. I see these students as leaders in all of our class’ discussions. I hope they’ll see class discussions as a chance to not only be brave enough to speak up, but also get really good at listening and asking questions; our world needs those skills more than ever.” Due to the team’s active nature, Reeves-Hampton is hopeful to get back in person to any degree. For Joseph, she has similar hopes for the class’s future, “Although, this year wasn’t entirely what I expected, I’m incredibly proud of the team and what we’ve accomplished. Regardless of what next year brings, I am whole-heartedly excited for the class!”

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