College Debaters Help Coach Team at Chester High School to New Heights

Mary Prager '11

College Debaters Help Coach 
Team at Chester High School to New Heights

by Mary Prager '11
05/30/2008

It's Thursday after school at Chester High School, and three students sit among piles of articles from The Economist and Newsweek. They absorb current events and issues, from the destruction of terrorist interrogation tapes to Congress's action (or lack thereof) regarding global warming. The three compete in extemporaneous speaking; a fourth student, who competes in poetry, trains on other days. They are members of the Chester High School (CHS) Debate Team, and they're coached by chemistry teacher Delores Wright and a handful of Swatties from Chester Debate.

Molly Piels '08Molly Piels '08

Molly Piels '08, an engineering and history double major, was one of several students who responded to an email from Wright seeking students to help coach the school's debate team. They formed Chester Debate at Swarthmore soon after.

This academic year, Chester Debate, co-coordinated by Molly and Suzanne Winters '10, helped Wright coach the debate team. "I work with Dolores to develop plans for the program - shaping lesson plans, organizing Swat volunteers, and lots of advance planning," says Molly, a member of the College's Peaslee Debate Society who coached the group's novice training program this year. "Practice usually involves a lot of talking about current events, but we try to focus on a different aspect of extemp every day. We spent a lot of time at the beginning of the year on delivery and how to do research and speed reading."

The efforts of Chester Debate and the CHS Debate Team paid off. At the state tournament qualifier, team co-captains Cameroon Lawson and Darren Davis placed fourth and fifth in extemporaneous speaking. They later competed in the radio broadcast and congress events at the state tournament, a first for them and the team.

"I was really happy with that finish from our two veterans and I think they were, too," Molly says. "They have improved immensely from when I first met them in the fall of last year."

According to Molly, that improvement is the best part of working with the team. "One of the things I always loved about debate as a competitor was the instant feedback I got from judges," she says. "Now, as a coach, I get to see students deal with that instant feedback and incorporate it into their speaking. It's pretty cool."