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Mix of brainpower, fun suits debate team members

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Photo by Nancy Royden. Members of the Walker Mill Middle School Debate Team smile after recently practicing their skills at the school. Members have done exceptionally well in District of Columbia Urban Debate League competition, said the league's executive director, Colin Touhey. Their adviser is language arts instructor Albert Lewis.

Photo by Nancy Royden. Members of the Walker Mill Middle School Debate Team smile after recently practicing their skills at the school. Members have done exceptionally well in District of Columbia Urban Debate League competition, said the league's executive director, Colin Touhey. Their adviser is language arts instructor Albert Lewis.

Published on: Wednesday, December 09, 2009

By Nancy Royden

Mixing brains and fun is a natural thing for members of the award-winning Walker Mill Middle School Debate Team.

The team won first, second and third place in the Urban Debate League compeetition, held in October.

Language arts teacher Albert Lewis, a resident of the Wilburn Community and past Walker Mill Middle School student and graduate of Central High School, leads the team of 13 debaters in Capitol Heights.

Seventh-grader Tenisa Miller-Williams said she wants to become a pediatrician, and is certain the skills she is learning will help her now and later in life.

“Even though I like debating, I like to help people. I like being on the team because it gets me to think,” she said. “I have to think about the situation. If it’s something I don’t know about, I have to think about it. I like to argue and this is a great way to do it.”

WMMS Principal Gorman Brown said the team’s commitment to the debate process and growth and prominence in an area league has been nothing short of remarkable.

“In the 21st century, it is extremely important to have knowledge of many topics. It is just as important to know how to access information and effectively collaborate in synthesizing several sources of evidence into an argument that they can logically, and persuasively, articulate. Debate expertly marries all of these. The acquisition of these ‘soft skills’ will make our young people indispensable members of our society,” he said.

Teams from the school brought home several awards Oct. 24, following competition in District of Columbia Urban Debate League’s tournament.

For the first time in the school’s history, a debate team was established last year.

The team also includes: Kiya Wright, Jordan Washington, Triere Green, Lamir Middleton, Tochi Obumbadiugha, Monica Fuller, Jordan Campbell, Kokwi Aryeetey, Akil Marshall, Kharhan Gordan, Elania Tate, and Zachary Jackson.

Debate is a very useful, multi-pronged activity, the DCUDL urges on its Web site.

“Colleges seek students who can think critically. Businesses reward employees who can communicate effectively. Democracy requires citizens who can participate actively. Debate is training for success in our society,” according to the DCUDL.

In teams of three, students on the proposition are to defend a position while teams on the opposition argue against it. The topics change every month and are chosen by the teachers. Generally, they fall into four or five categories – school topic, regional topic, national topic, international topic or a values topic, according to the DCUDL.

Topics debated during the 2008-2009 season in the DCUDL Middle School Public Debate Program included: “The bottled water industry does more harm than good,” “The U.S. should adopt a national identification card system,” “Honesty is the best policy,” “The United States should adopt a 35 hour workweek,” “The U.S. should ban offshore drilling,” and “Food crops should not be used for fuel.”

Colin Touhey, executive director of the DCUDL, said students who are on debate teams definitely gain valuable skills. It strengthens many types of skills, including reading, writing, speaking, numeracy, and the ability to work well independently and in groups.

“Debate does all of these,” he said. “Any other extracurricular activity I know of doesn’t hit all of them.”

Touhey said that money spent on debate is worth it and provides many benefits without great cost.

Those on debate teams build friendships and community, and the team at WMMS has been successful during competition in a very brief amount of time.

Last year, the DCUDL provided 12 debate tournaments for students, and Touhey said that breaks down into more than 1,400 debates and more than 450 competitors.

The DCUDL receives grant money and donations, but Touhey said right now, it is “flat broke.”

With about $30,000, the organization funded last year’s tournaments, including meals for students, trophies, training for teachers, and started or ramped up new programs.

Brown said students who excel in academics deserve support of other students and community members — the same that athletes garner.

“I absolutely believe in celebrating academic success with the same level of zeal that we celebrate success in other venues, such as sports. We have actually made it common practice at Walker Mill Middle School to host quarterly honor roll pep rallies where students who achieve academic excellence are celebrated with cheerleaders, banners and a pep band. Rather than subdue enthusiasm, we urge students to cheer loudly to celebrate their friends’ efforts. Handshakes are replaced with high fives and ‘fist pounds.’ ” he said.

Brown said during the school’s last pep rally, out of 240 students, more than one-third of them received accolades for making the honor roll.

Brown said he never competed on a debate team himself, but he loves the idea that students at WMMS have the opportunity to do so.

Lewis, who often spends much more than eight hours a day at the school, sets a wonderful example of what it means to help others reach their potential, the principal said.

“I think that this young man’s dedication to the community in which he grew up is worthy of merit. With all of the stories of young African-American males that are struggling in this society, I believe that his is one of success in the truest sense,” Brown said.

Anyone who would like to start a debate team or donate money to the league may e-mail Touhey at or call 202-341-5101. The league’s Web site address is:

Reader Comments - 5 Total

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Posted By: Liz On: 12/13/2009

Title: Walker Mill Middle School Debate team

This is a great article. It is good to honor academics - not only physical sports. I am sure these kids are proud of themselves. They have done well. Go Walker Mill Debate team. Thanks to the Sentinel and Ms Roydent for recognizing and rewarding the team for their effort and achievements. Of course, this could not be done without their coach, Mr. Lewis. Thanks also to the DC urban Debate League for providing the avenue for these kids to achieve.

Posted By: Jordan On: 12/13/2009

Title: Walker Middle School Debate team

This is a wonderful article. Thanks to Ms. Royden and The Ssentinel.

Posted By: Triere Green-Walker Mill Middle School Debate Captin On: 12/12/2009


Im soooooo happy that you have chosen to spotlight the walker mill debate team. As a captin, I am extremley proud of my team and what we have acomplished. Thanks to Mr. Brown and Mr. Lewis for your continuing support...and as always......GO PANTHERS!

Posted By: L D. NEW YORK On: 12/10/2009


Go team, congratulation to you all and to my nephew Jordan Campbell, you make us proud. Keep up the good work guys.

Posted By: Juliet, Jamaica W.I. On: 12/10/2009


It is wonderful training for young people to be involved in debates which should help them to argue more thoughtfully and objectively as adults.


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