Reno, NV (March 29, 2011) - Eleven-year-old Isabela Reyes-Klein wants to be a lawyer when she grows up. She already knows what she needs to do to achieve that goal - learn how to give an argument. The precocious Hunsberger Elementary School girl said she was already a natural at debating long before she decided to start up the Washoe County School District Elementary School Debate Club.
"These are foundational skills children need," said Lauren Klein, Isabela's mother. "What Isabela is doing, that is exactly the kind of children we want at Yale - passionate self-starters who know how to communicate. Colleges will pick a student like that over another because of their leadership and sense of community."
The Elementary School Debate Club is open to all students from kindergarteners to sixth graders and meets in Double Diamond Elementary School's library on Mondays. It has only been in session for a couple of weeks, but already it's attracting students from schools like Hunsberger and Caughlin Ranch.
Students take a position on an issue, such as teacher tenure, and then do some research throughout the week to gather support for their position. Club meetings start with warm-up drills to help their pronunciation, team-building exercises and then they divide into groups to discuss topics of interest and the students choose a side of the issue they want to debate.
Isabela's idea for the club was formulated two years ago after taking a tour of the Davidson Academy in Reno. Klein said she encouraged her daughter to pursue the idea and present it to the principal at Double Diamond. With the help of former WCSD public information officer Steve Mulvenon, who has experience as a college debate coach, Isabela created a PowerPoint presentation and formalized the club.
Students also receive help from a more experienced high school student who participates in their school's debate club. Kelli Brill, a senior at Reno High School, volunteers her time by coaching the students of the elementary club, saying, "I strongly believe in the educational value that debate provides. The research and analytical skills that it builds are so valuable and the sooner kids start using those skills, the
Brill has been debating for four years. In her high school club, students are given a topic that lasts the duration of the debate season. This year, she and her peers are arguing about the United States reducing its military or police presence in Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, Turkey, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Diane Dale, mother of fourth grade student Casey Brichetto of Hunsberger, said the club provides a fun activity while boosting a student's confidence.
"It helps them learn pronunciation and how to project their voice and develop speech skills, skills they need as they get older and they're learning it at a young age," Dale said. "It's a good start."