Excitement is in the air on the 3rd floor. The kids are giddy. They move tables and chairs to set up the classrooms for the debates. I need to raise my voice a couple of times so they don’t get hurt with falling furniture and tumbling pencil carousels. It’s almost time. Students switch classes, get to their assigned room, start rehearsing their speeches. At 8:50 the office starts sending parents upstairs. Teachers in the hallway guide them to the room where their children will be debating. Smiles, adults dressed up for work, taking some time to come and see their kids doing their first debate. More smiles, hugs, gleaming children’s faces. We finally settle. Some last minute missing note cards. A colleague who called in sick (why? not today! how could you?), kids panicking, texts, scrambling teachers, our fabulous paraprofessional helping them compose themselves and rehearse without their notes. Waiting. Ten minutes later than planned, with three rooms filled with expecting parents, brothers, grandparents, uncles – where do they all come from? We expected no more than 30-40 people in all (understandably, on a work day at 9 in the morning) and more than 80 show up. How great is that?
The first group is sitting at the “panel” tables, with their name card officially in front of them. Parents sitting on two rows of chairs, kids sitting on the floor. The first topic is recycling. The first student up is one of our more troubled students. He has little confidence in reading and writing. He likes math (because he is pretty good at it) but always fights reading and writing, a big task avoider. But there he is, in front of all these people, and there he goes! He introduces himself, states his group’s position on the topic, and the first reason for their stance. He makes eye contact, his voice is steady, he doesn’t fidget. His big brown eyes are deep, a shadow of shyness apparent to those who know him well. So proud of him! And then another big moment. Another boy who struggles with most subjects, whose life is devoid of affection, whose basic needs are not always met, comes up, puts his note cards down on the music stand, and starts speaking without even glancing at his notes! Not once! This is the first time I see him so confident, so prepared and determined! It’s my colleague’s and my turn to beam. Wow! One after the other, the kids from the three groups take their turn. Here’s a girl who talks about her family’s experience with solar panels, she makes it personal – is she really only ten years old? And then another boy, who speaks to the room with the confidence of a seasoned public speaker. And then the girl with the speech impediment, following her note cards more closely than others, but speaking authoritatively and clearly. I can’t stop smiling.
Clapping, smiles, hugs (to the teachers too!) from the families. I congratulate the kids who did not have anyone there, but who also feel proud and show it in their eyes and smiles. What a day!