Debate league awarded $10,000

Organization honored at White House for programs for youth

January 24, 2007|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,sun reporter

First lady Laura Bush honored the Baltimore Urban Debate League this week as one of 17 outstanding community arts and humanities programs for youth in the United States and Mexico.

Pam Spiliadis, the debate league's executive director, accepted a $10,000 award at a ceremony Monday at the White House.

The ceremony honored winners of the federal Coming Up Taller awards, an initiative of the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Yesterday, Baltimore school officials celebrated the achievements of the debate league in a ceremony at Chinquapin Middle School.

The awards recognize programs for supporting the creativity of young people and providing them with opportunities to contribute to their communities.

Bush, who leads her husband's Helping America's Youth Initiative, said at the ceremony that the honored programs all "make extraordinary contributions."

"Teens find their own voices through Baltimore's Urban Debate League," she said. "There, underperforming students become eager researchers, articulate speakers and disciplined competitors. Ninety percent of them go on to college. Look for these formidable policy debaters in the courtroom and, someday, at the White House."

The competition received more than 250 nominations for the 17 awards, all of which were for $10,000. Other honored programs are in cities such as New York, Chicago and New Orleans. Honorees include a student-produced radio program in New York City and a literacy program for incarcerated youth in Fremont, Calif.

The debate league started in Baltimore in 1999 with 90 students from eight schools. It now works with more than 1,000 students from more than 60 middle and high schools in the city each year to develop communication skills and critical thinking.

Each year, the program begins with a two-week summer debate institute led by debate experts and teachers from participating schools who are trained as coaches. During the school year, students meet after school two to five times a week for three hours each session.

Students work in teams to develop solutions to national policy problems, conducting research, studying rhetoric and debating.

The league also hosts an annual debate series during which students debate in public venues including the Inner Harbor, City Hall and on live radio and television.

More than 90 percent of participating students are graduating from high school and going on to college each year, according to school system officials.

The Coming Up Taller program is administered by the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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