Forensics challenges students to speak their minds

Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Public speaking and the poise it requires are important skills. In addition, collecting an audience and releasing your inner ham can be just plain fun.

Around the Kenai Peninsula, dozens of students are exploring the spoken word through forensics. Having nothing to do with crime labs, this version of forensics are about public recitations.

Saturday, young speakers in grades four through six gathered at Soldotna High School for the borough's elementary school forensics tournament. Youngsters, some costumed as everything from bugs to businessmen, thronged the halls. About 200 children took part, presenting works they had learned.

"It is memorizing, expressing the feelings of that piece and getting it across to the audience," explained Sue Liebner, principal at North Star Elementary School in Nikiski and one of the organizers of the tournament.

Teams of judges scored the students on how well they accomplished those goals and selected three winners per grade in categories ranging from poetry to storytelling.

"At first I had no idea what (forensics) was," said Maria Perzechino, 12, from Sterling Elementary School.

Perzechino was attending the tournament, having taken top honors at her school, for the third year in a row. She credited her fourth-grade teacher, Tracy Wimmer, with getting her involved and coaching her. Perzechino got off to a good start, taking second in the borough as a fourth-grader. The success inspired her to go on.

This year her interpretive reading of a piece called "The Great Kapok Tree" won her a first in the interpretive reading category.

Perzechino picks her competition piece carefully, looking for something that clicks with her and avoiding ones that slip into sing-song. The memorizing part is easy, she said.

"By the time we get here, we know it backward and forward," she said.


Sam Bidwell and Charlene Ivanoff practice their piece "The Meehoo with an Exaclywatt." They won third place in the multiple poetry category at the borough forensics competition. The girls are fifth-graders at Mountain View Elementary School in Kenai

Photo courtesy of Mountain View Elementary School

Another 12-year-old forensics champion is Ellen Holt from Tustumena Elementary School in Kasilof. She and her partner, Edna Hagedorn, won the multiple (meaning with more than one speaker) poetry category for sixth grade.

At first she got involved through forensics as a class assignment. But she liked it so well she volunteered to participate competitively, and now she is considering an acting career.

Holt said she has never forgotten her lines, but some do. Waiting to go on stage is stressful.

"I think the worst part is getting all nervous and shaky," she said.

The 2002 competition is better organized than years past, she said, and she praised her teacher, Gail Knobf, and Hagedorn for their help.

"This is the first year I've done multiples. It is really fun because you can give each other tips and work better."

Liebner explained that helping each other is a big part of the forensics competition.

Just putting on the tournament involved six school employees, plus 45 other volunteers. They gave up a sunny Saturday to drive children from all over the peninsula to Soldotna and root for them in the contests.

"This isn't something we have to do. We do this for the kids," Liebner said.

"It's a big job to do."


Krikkit Holly and Erin Simpson ham up their win at the Saturday tournament. The sixth-graders represented Redoubt Elementary School in Soldotna.

Photo by Linda Houglum

Liebner added that the presentations go beyond entertainment.

She particularly praised sixth-grader Ryan Hobbs, whose original serious piece about the events of Sept. 11 touched the hearts of all who heard it.

Educators like forensics because it offers a distinctive and dynamic angle for teaching language arts.

"Along with literature and writing, speaking and expression are major components in the language arts curriculum because teachers are always looking for ways to bring their programs to life. Forensics can be the perfect tool to do just that.

"Performances of works by great authors such as Shakespeare, Poe and Dickens allow students to look beyond the black-and-white pages and see the vitality, magic and wonder that the text alone cannot provide. It also offers an opportunity for students to present their own original compositions and practice persuasive speaking techniques," according to the district's entry form.

Forensics buffs will have another chance to watch young speakers in action soon. The borough forensics tournament for grades seven and eight will be March 30 at Soldotna Middle School.

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