Caleb Koufman H&SSubmitted by Caleb Koufman, faculty member at Landmark High School

When most people imagine the extracurriculars offered at a school for students with language-based learning disabilities​, such as dyslexia​, debate club is usually not among them. Just like any presumptions about their disabilities, though, students ​where I work as a teacher ​proved this one wrong, too.

It is my job to encourage students to question lessons and provoke discussions in a polite and articulate nature​ despite whatever learning difference they may have.​ ​After persistent student requests, and a bit of uncertainty on the part of the faculty, senior faculty member Bruce Stoddard and I started a debate team as an extracurricular activity at the school.

Kenneth Deluze takes the floor in a recent debate.
Kenneth Deluze takes the floor in a recent debate.

Junior ​William Cassilly and Sophomore ​Kenneth Deluze comprised the first-ever​ debate team ​at Landmark School​. It was such a pleasure to witness any anxieties about debating melt during the initial speeches. Suddenly, finding their confidence, Kenny started slamming his fist onto the desk in front of him like a Manhattan courtroom lawyer as he accused the other team of conceding a point that they forgot to address, and Liam calmly and inquisitively cross-examined his opponent like a Southern legislator before making his final arguments during the final focus.

​Despite what most people may think about students who inherently struggle with language, these students ​can be uniquely​ skilled at the most important aspects of debate.

​They value presentation and preparation and authentically appeal to judges. With strong verbal and logical reasoning, our debaters are able to diminish the effect of their learning disabilities and present a strong and confident demeanor at the podium. ​Despite their challenges with reading and writing, many of our students ​often ​have an affinity for compelling public speech and the ​new debate club allows ​them​ to realize this.

​ ​The experience of learning how to debate requires acquiring new skills that are often outside of any student’s comfort zone. In general, most people dread public speaking. But debating also requires knowledge of how to take notes in shorthand and write persuasive cases that cite scholars, scientists, advocates, lawyers, judges, politicians, literature, and legislature. The most important part of debate, though, is the experience of confronting an intimidating challenge and succeeding. Debate is empowering to students, and we hope to watch the program grow in the future to incorporate more people with varying levels of experience.

Left to right: Students William Cassilly, Kenneth Deluze, and faculty member Caleb Koufman preparing for a recent debate.
Left to right: Students William Cassilly, Kenneth Deluze, and faculty member Caleb Koufman preparing for a recent debate.

​This week we will be attending our​ third official debate at a competitive private school nearby. ​The topic is whether or not high schools, universities, and professional sports teams should ban the use of ethnic group images such as mascots and team names. There’s no telling who will win or lose but the debate is sure to be inspiring, competitive, and the start of a new and exciting tradition.

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  • That’s great that Landmark is doing debate. My son has been a part of his high school’s debate team (Lexington High School) for4 years and has gotten an incredible amount from that program. We actually believe it helped him get into the college of his choice.

    • What is certainly true is that debate has proven to be the best college preparation that students can get, and our history in Manchester and Waring School where I now work is continuing to prove this true. Our top debate was just admitted to Yale!

  • As Caleb’s debate coach and now good friend, I am delighted that my current school, Waring School of Beverly, is the private school that has been honored to host the Landmark Debate Team in three scrimmages this year. They are becoming a very strong team, and we look forward to many more exciting debates next year when they join our Massachusetts and national leagues.

  • Update: Coach Stoddard and I are proud to announce that Kenneth Deluze and William Cassilly won their debate today, recording Landmark Debate’s first ever victory. Their improvements as public speakers were evident to us leading up to the debate, and it is a pleasure to now have the official validation.

  • We at Waring Debate shared in the joy about Kenneth and William’s big win today. In just a semester, they have learned the skills of note taking, responding to arguments, thinking on their feet, and making articulate statements. We look forward to more scrimmages and contests with Landmark next year.

  • I am thrilled that Caleb is coaching debate and that he has reconnected with Tim Averill, his high school debate coach.

  • The Debate Team has been an extremely valuable experience for my son Robby McDougal. His confidence within himself has grown along with note-taking, and to “just” be able to read allowed and in front of others. Thank you Mr. Stoddard and Mr. Koufman for all your hard work and care. You all took a huge leap of faith and won!

  • Mr. Koufman, would you mind sharing any resources you used to help these students overcome their challenges with language or reading? I was just approached about a student interested in the debate team and I’d like to help him. I would appreciate any references or strategies that you found helpful.

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