Uniondale Middle, High Schools compete in Harvard debate tourney

Uniondale Middle and High Schools students celebrated their victory on their way home from a recent local tournament. Owing in part to its many local successes, the team was able to compete recently at Harvard University. // Photo courtesy Uniondale School District

By Melanie Medina

Harvard University welcomed Uniondale High Middle and High School students to its 49th annual debate tournament in Cambridge, Mass., Feb. 20, and though these competitors did not triumph overall, they did notch wins and came away with an array of new argumentation skills, members said.

The Uniondale Board of Education has in recent years expanded the district’s debate programs throughout its elementary, middle and high schools. On Mach 7, the board recognized members of the team and their faculty advisers for their showing at Harvard and successes at other recent tournaments. The ceremony took place in Uniondale High’s Little Theater.

“These young people actually had the opportunity to travel and compete with other young people from all over the country and Dominican Republic at Harvard University,” Uniondale Schools Superintendent MoniqueDarrisaw-Akil said.

Nina Saveth, the high school debate team coach, highlighted some of the travels and opportunities that the squad has had during her tenure. “The students have helped me to learn more about debate, and they’ve pushed me to be a better coach,” Saveth said. “The debate team is a unique set of students. They are intelligent. They are really motivated to be the best they can be at these tournaments, and I hope one day that we can set something up so we can show you a tournament.”

In addition to Harvard, the team has competed locally and throughout the greater metropolitan area, including in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Savannah Hope, a junior and the high school debate team captain, presented briefly about her squad’s experience. “If you were to tell me four years ago when I was in the seventh grade that I would actually have a chance to go to Harvard and debate, like I would have rolled my eyes at you,” Hope said. “Debate has taught me to be a better critical and logical thinker. I hope that my teammates and I continue to get opportunities like this again.”

Sixth-grader Alicia Kashart told the board of the joy that she felt when she was chosen to compete at Harvard. “When I was selected to go to Harvard, it was an insane experience,” Alicia said. “When we actually started debating, it was difficult. Losing our first two rounds was a devastating setback, but after countless pep talks from my parents and coaches, my teammate and I persevered and won the next two rounds.”

“Debate has taught me to be a better critical and logical thinker. I hope that my teammates and I continue to get opportunities like this again.”

Savannah Hope, Uniondale High School Debate Team Captain

Kashart was one of many Uniondale students who traveled to Harvard and used her loss as motivation to continue with debate as an extracurricular activity. “It was an upsetting setback, but when I realized how lucky I was to even be at Harvard, I cheered up and arrived home a day earlier than expected, yet still victorious,” Kashart said.

Debate adviser Keith Cole spoke about his time with the debate team as well as his growth with the students on their trips, including their participation in the Harvard debate tournament. “I tell you that these young people, when you ever get a chance to see them in a room, it’s really, really phenomenal,” Cole said. “These kids are really elite. We went to Harvard, and we have our sixth-graders going against eighth-graders.”