Although the pandemic has led to Merryhill School in Milpitas being closed since March, that has done nothing to deter the spirit of its students.
Several months ago, a group of then-6th-grade students started meeting virtually over the course of 12 weeks to learn and explore the art of debate. Known as the Milpitas Golden Knights, this group of students has been led by 9th-grader Meghaa Ravichandran (now a 10th-grader), a student at Notre Dame High School.
During club sessions, students covered an assortment of topics, including debates about traditional schooling vs. homeschooling, whether or not computers are replacing teachers, and whether or not cell phones should be banned from classrooms.
Three months into the program, students and parents alike reported amazing results:
“Because of COVID-19, I could not go for summer camp and I used this time productively to engage in the debate group with my friends, which improved my self-confidence and my public speaking skills,” said one student.
And one parent mentioned: “I feel the summer 2020 debate club was a great learning experience for my son. He was able to strengthen his critical thinking and public speaking skills. Also he had a good time connecting with his fellow peers.”
Ravichandran provided The Beat with the following write-up of her experience leading and coaching the group…
New Opportunities for Middle School Students
As more summer programs were being canceled, I saw there was a need for keeping students engaged and stimulating their creativity, and I responded as such. With the COVID-19 situation bringing in a new distance learning environment and summer lockdown for students, a group of eight middle school students (Milpitas Golden Knights), with my active volunteer guidance, came up with a creative plan to spend the summer holidays safely indoors, socially connecting by organizing a program through remote learning model for Public Forum Debate.
How did this idea begin?
In light of the COVID-19 situation, when students were faced with the challenge of trying to find ways to keep active during the lockdown, eight 6th-grade Merryhill school students showed an interest in practicing and learning techniques for public forum debate. With my assistance and leadership as the debate Advisor and judge, the debate club was formed and sessions were organized. I helped design the debate classes and practice sessions every week for 12 weeks, with the idea of keeping the students connected and mentally healthy during challenging times.
About the Debate Sessions
With dedication, we started to practice at the end of May; the kids continued to learn and acquire skills that would assist them through middle school. Every week, the team gathered in a virtual meeting session and reviewed debate materials/rules, watched debate videos, and practiced speeches. The program was in the form of four teams with two members in each team. For every debate topic, the team members were re-grouped to support each other. The debate team independently handled work sessions amongst themselves during the week to prepare for the debate and keep connected. This helped the students to learn and practice teamwork. At the end of each debate, the group voted for the next debate title and continued to challenge themselves. In addition to debate sessions and in the spirit of rewarding and motivating the students, the program was expanded to include a general knowledge quiz—which covered topics like science, history, geography, politics, and sports—at the end of each debate session.
By the end of the debate sessions, the kids were able to meet at a local park, while social distancing, to celebrate their achievements. It was their first time meeting in real life since the start of the summer, and the kids enjoyed catching up. They were presented with trophies and medals to congratulate them on their progress and improvement in debating. Team pictures were taken and speeches were given to thank everyone for their participation in the program.
The final debate session was attended by the Principal of Merryhill School, Ms. Quinn Letan, who recognized the effort put in by the students. The students were also given the opportunity to present the program to Milpitas Mayor Richard Tran.
In the end, the credit really goes toward all the students of this program: Nalika, Diya, Saatvika, Aadya, Sohan, Adithya, Hrithvik, and Katthir.