(Editor’s Note: Alma Garcia, a senior at North Plainfield High School, is an intern for TAPinto North Plainfield.)
"If you can't convince them, confuse them" is the slogan displayed on the North Plainfield High School (NPHS) Debate Club’s T-shirts.
The NPHS Debate Club is an extracurricular activity that exposes students to controversial topics and teaches them how to build, argue and support their claims. The club was inspired by Kelli Beard, NPHS’s world history and AP history teacher, who was on the debate team at her Hillsborough high school and throughout college. She established the club in North Plainfield three years ago and currently serves as its advisor.
"When I saw that there was nobody leading a debate team when I started working at North Plainfield, I decided to take the reins. Debate is an important academic club; it teaches public speaking, confidence, logic, and how to argue,” Beard said.
Students in grades nine through twelve can join the club, which meets every Wednesday after school. The club’s officers control the debate and currently include senior Cindy Aldana, president; sophomore Andre Eason, vice president; and senior Kyle Funelas secretary; along with Sebastian Palacios, mentor.
Before each debate, Beard determines which student, usually a junior or senior, will be the chair, serve as moderator and who will hold the gavel, a job that requires the student to decide when the person speaking must end their argument.
"I assist students with paperwork, signing in, handing out play cards,” Beard said, noting that students play an important role in debate.
According to Aldana, a typical Wednesday meeting begins when members of the club walk into the overflow room, which is a mini lunchroom dedicated to seniors, and begin random conversations before the official debate begins. "Stats and research are a main element to support each argument,” said Aldana.
During debate, the members of the club have a little fun by referring to each other's arguments and adding Senator before their last name.
According to a handout that is given to students interested in the club on the first day, a few topics that students debate about are the death penalty, gun control laws, abortion, weapons for school personnel, and microchips in humans. One of the most controversial topics to be covered relates to immigration reform. Officers of the club took on a role of a specific politician, presenting different perspectives on the issues.
Debating at North Plainfield goes farther than just the school. students attend debate conferences several times during the season and fundraise during school. At a recent conference, three out of 12 NPHS students in attendance won an award.
"I've been in debate for only a year, but it's been extremely rewarding,” said Funelas, “Being a part of a group with such talented speakers and debaters has helped me in many ways. I've been able to gain knowledge and speaking skills from debate and I am happy for this experience that debate has given me."
Aldana has been in debate since she her freshman year and it has helped to instill confidence in her and helped her to grow as a person. Aldana has witnessed people grow intellectually as well. "Debate has been my home and seeing it grow continues to leave a warm place in my heart. It will be the hardest to leave when I graduate."
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