It started in May of 2019.
After being inspired to start a debate program for young students, Milpitas High School (MHS) student Rachel Wu got to work. She recruited the support of other like-minded students and started planning out the logistics.
By the Fall of 2019, the groundwork had been laid. The first Milpitas Debate class began across four Milpitas schools—Russell Middle School, Rancho Middle School, Zanker Elementary, and Weller Elementary. One volunteer instructor was assigned to go out to each school in-person, sharing the magic of debate with students from 3rd through 8th grade. They were able to teach 100 students during that time.
For Wu, one of the motivating factors for beginning the program was making debate accessible to students. This is why her plan involved launching this free program at Title I schools.
Back when she was in middle school, Wu herself had the opportunity of joining the High School debate team…
“We didn’t have a middle school program,” said Wu. “I was introduced to a high school sophomore who said, ‘If you want to try, I can help you get into debate.’ So I took that opportunity.”
That opportunity made an impact on Wu’s life. It helped her to think more critically, and to express herself in a more eloquent way. As she got older, she knew she wanted to share debate with younger students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it.
As stated on the program’s website, their mission is “a universal public speaking & debate education for all. We accomplish this through sparking large-scale initiatives to increase youth engagement in public speaking as well as after-school programs, mentoring underrepresented youth through public speaking.”
Due to COVID, over this past summer the debate program was held as a 5-week online course. A total of 300 students attended the class. The curriculum included slides, videos, and interesting activities. And at the end of the program, students prepared videos of themselves making a speech about community; either a narrative story, an advocacy story, or an expository/informative speech.
And now, in her senior year at MHS, Wu and her team are kicking things up a notch:
“Since it’s going to be virtual, we’re going to open it up to all the MUSD schools,” said Wu.
The debate course will now have 3 programs: a middle school program, an introductory track, and an advanced track. And students from any of the 10 elementary schools or 2 middle schools will be able to be a part of it. The anticipated start date is some time in September.
All the volunteers who teach the program are high school students. And Wu hopes to welcome more volunteers onboard so that they can teach multiple classes.
In the past, Wu has placed 6th in an international debate tournament, and also qualified for national tournaments. And across all of her debate experiences, she has seen that girls are underrepresented.
“People don’t realize girls are underrepresented,” said Wu. “We have to consistently prove ourselves at a higher standard. And that kind of deters women from positions where they need to be leaders or do a lot of public speaking.”
Recently, Wu was heartened when one of the mothers of a girl in her club reached out and told her that her daughter is so confident now, having gone through the program. Wu hopes to continue empowering girls and helping them to develop their voices.
“So this is about accessibility for not only low-income students by keeping the program free…but it’s also accessibility to all genders, all races…” said Wu.
To find out more information about the Debate program and their upcoming plans to launch more classes this Fall, go to: