Students Benefit from Skills Learned in Debate

This was originally published in the Reno Gazette Journal in 2009.


Debate is an extracurricular school activity that could take as much time as an academic subject, but some Reno High School students said it’s expanded their minds and helped make their classes and assignments easier.

“Before I entered debate, I was all over the place, and it helped organize my thoughts and the way I do things,” said Cory Nims, 16, a Reno High junior. “Essays are now incredibly easy to write, and many things we learn in class I’ve already learned from debate.”

For example, Nims said debate required him to do research on alternative energy last school year. Then the subject came up in science class, and he knew it well.

Kelli Brill, a 16-year-old junior, agreed.

“When we talk about abstract concepts, such as patriarchy and socialism, we’ll learn the beginning of these types of (movements) and when you talk about it in class, it refers back to debate,” Brill said.

Nathaniel Haas, a Reno sophomore, said participating in debate has increased his confidence.

“I’ve become a more confident person and more driven to accomplish goals because of the work ethic it teaches and requires,” said Haas, 15. “It teaches you to speak your mind, ask questions and engage.”

Brill said debate has helped her in the same way.

“I was extremely shy,” Brill said. “I couldn’t talk to more than three people at a time without blushing. I then got better with public speaking practice.”

Debate has enabled Nims to talk intelligently with others.

“I can have intellectual conversations with people because what I learned from debate,” Nims said. “I also like to talk really fast and impress my friends.”

Rebekah Foster, Reno’s assistant debate coach and English teacher, said debate helps students with critical thinking skills.

“They become better writers, better students and learn how to lead and participate in class discussions,” Foster said. “They learn to think on their feet and communicate with others.”

Students often can be found practicing after school for their monthly contests that draw teams from around the region. Schools with large debate clubs, such as Reno High, can enter multiple teams in each event.

Reno High’s teams took first and second in the policy debate during the October contest.

“Of all the high schools in the Reno area, they’re the year-to-year ongoing top team,” said Robert Wexler, who has been a high school debate judge for 52 years, almost 10 of those in Washoe County. “High school debate is the intersection of academic achievement and competition.”

The subjects for debate changes annually. This year’s topic deals with whether the federal government should increase social services for Americans living in poverty.

Students have to prepare to argue either side of a topic and must state evidence, citing authors and dates, when making points.

“I still have opinions but can see the different side of other opinions,” said senior Jonathan McGuire, 17. “Debate really does help with everything. It helps in classes, in work and in life. It’s one of the most beneficial activities I’ve ever been a part of.”