Three area youths fly off to Russia for debate camp

Competition: Young people from 30 countries will be competing in St. Petersburg. They will argue the U.N. policy on human rights.

July 27, 2001|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Seventeen-year-old Derek Daughton has been preparing for a month to argue the finer points of United Nations policy on human rights at an international debate camp in Russia.

But he's got something totally different on his mind as he ponders the long trip overseas on Flight 2142.

"Believe it or not, I'm worried about baggage loss more than anything else," he said.

Daughton is one of three members of the Baltimore Urban Debate League who left yesterday for St. Petersburg to participate in a 12-day summer debate camp of the aptly named IDEA, or International Debate Education Association.

Daughton, Deitrick Goodwin and Candice Williams -- all recent graduates of area high schools -- were chosen from more than 150 young debaters to compete with students from more than 30 countries, including Haiti, Israel and Mongolia.

Daughton graduated last month from Chesapeake High School in Essex, but spent most of high school at Baltimore's Lake Clifton/Eastern. Goodwin and Williams attended the city's Northwestern and Forest Park high schools, respectively.

Team members don't know which side of the issue they'll be asked to argue -- "Resolved: The United Nations should expand the protection of cultural rights" -- meaning they have to be ready to take either one.

The Baltimore Urban Debate League was launched in 1999 by the local branch of the Open Society Institute, and is operated as a partnership with Towson University, the Fund for Educational Excellence and the city school system.

All nine of the city's neighborhood high schools have debate teams, which train after school and on Saturdays for local, regional and national competitions throughout the year.

When a political science teacher at Lake Clifton suggested that Daughton get involved in debate two years ago, he had no idea what would come of it -- or that it would lead to this, his first trip out of the country.

Until now, the farthest he had traveled was to Atlanta, where he attended a summer debate camp at Emory University, also as part of the Baltimore Urban Debate League program.

"I didn't really know that I would be doing debate for as long as I have been and as long as I want to be," said Daughton, who hopes to attend Towson University beginning next spring and to be on the debate team there.

The student debaters are being joined on the Open Society Institute-funded trip by three Baltimore high school teachers who double as debate coaches: Amy Brooks of Frederick Douglass, Angelo Brooks of Walbrook Uniform Services Academy and Georgos Andreas Spiliadis of Forest Park.

Amy Brooks, 24, who teaches English, said debate can be a "life-altering" experience especially for city students, who sometimes feel like they don't have a voice.

"I think the education system in the city sometimes frustrates young students in their ambitions to learn, but then when they get into debate it's very self-motivating," she said.

"There's a lot of stereotypes about urban education, and a lot of them are true. This [debate program] is one that usually shocks people: There are so many kids who really want to do it. And they're good."

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