Alicia Mclelland,13, balanced carefully on hot pink, zebra-striped crutches as she made her way to a podium in front of a room full of her 7th and 8th grade classmates. She cleared her throat, and her eyes flicked around the room before she began reading quietly from her notes.
“Today, I will be presenting my opinion on how student athletes should have to take a drug test to participate in sports,” Mclelland said.
The middle-school student went on to explain that athletes were being “set up for failure” if not being monitored by adults. “It’s not invading their people’s privacy if they have nothing to hide,” she said.
Mclelland was followed by students discussing if parents should be informed when their minor gets pregnant or has an abortion, whether children should be considered adults at 16 and whether aliens or demons were real, during Debate Week at the River City Academy in Soldotna.
Each topic was selected by students at the beginning of the week and debated on Friday Oct. 12 in front of their teacher, Tad Degray, and older students who scored each student on the clarity of their argument, their research and performance.
DeGray said the performance-based academy requires students to participate in the debates as part of becoming proficient in oral communication which is part of the language arts curriculum.
During the week, DeGray said, the students went over persuasive techniques but were tasked with doing their own research and working as a team to compete on the final day.
Some students, like Tralessa Mahan, argued confidently.
Mahan, 14, stood in front of the classroom, making eye contact with several of her classmates as she spoke about the existence of demons.
“Unclean spirits, evil entities, demons. Various spiritual beings usually thought to be somehow between humans and God. Once thought to cause natural disasters, the supposed existence of demons is an important part of many modern day religious such as Hebrew mythology, Christians, Satanists and many other religions,” Mahan said.
She said after the debate she had been lucky enough to get picked for the pro side of the debate.
“I knew quite a bit about exorcisms and demons. I’ve researched that topic before just out of interest,” she said.
Other members of her team froze and muttered their way through presentations.
Some students went for laughs. Sawyer Mahan, 13, who took a break from his argument to write “I like you, do you like me?” on a Post-It note and stick it to the front of his team’s table for the opposing team to read.
Donivan Medcoff, 13, argued that demons were real because he had come in contact with several. His latest demonic contact, he said, had been with his family’s pet chihuahua.
Several people in the room couldn’t contain their laughter during Medcoff’s speech and DeGray smiled himself looking back down to mark a score on his sheet.
While some of the antics kept students in the room entertained, Mahan said she wasn’t pleased with all of the distractions.
“I find that completely irrelevant to the whole debate, she said. “I put a lot of time into my speech ... it was just kind of irritating because I knew I did all that work and they’re just giving it kind of a bad rep.”
Still, Mahan said the debates were good practice for public speaking and she’d had a hard time keeping her hands from shaking while she spoke so it had been good practice.
She said the content of the speech should be more important than the way it is was delivered, but that people’s body language affected how their audience listened.
“We’re learning that the message will be more powerful and people will listen more, once they get that perfect body stance and everything; rather than looking down and away from people and just trying not to be nervous,” she said.
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org