Chicago Debates offering a summer institute to youth

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Students across the country can participate in a virtual debate camp next month.

Hosted by Chicago Debates, the summer institute will be held via Google Meets for students in 5th through 12th grade Aug. 2nd through the 13th.

Toinette Gunn, executive director of Chicago Debates, encourages everyone – including West Side youth – to participate.Debate helps students acquire important life skills, such as public speaking, critical thinking, collaboration and listening, Gunn said. 

Chicago Debates was founded over 20 years ago with just five schools and 35 students. Today, there are 1,700 student debaters at 92 schools across the Chicago area. In the next five years, they hope to add at least 1,000 students with a focus on Chicago’s West and South sides. 

The organization held a citywide championship debate tournament in April where 150 CPS students got the opportunity to show off their skills.

Gregorio Chavez of Pritzker College Prep won the debater of the year award, while Ryan Howell of Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center was awarded coach of the year, and Sharone Mitchell, a Cook County public defender, was named Chicago Debates’ alum of the year.

Given last year’s public discourse on race and justice, this year’s topic is fittingly criminal justice reform.

“We want to try to use issues that are relevant to the students locally here and present topics that hit close to home,” Gunn said. 

There are four divisions: rookie, novice, junior varsity and varsity. Judges decide the winners based on who’s most convincing in their argument and who offers the best rebuttals. 

“Our primary goal is to bridge the opportunity gap,” said Anthony Bolden, director of programs for Chicago Debates. “This is not typically an urban activity.”

Bolden said about 80 percent of the schools that participated last year were Title 1, and about 80 percent of the students who took part identify as people of color.

For students who don’t have a debate team at their school, they can contact Chicago Debates, who can help them advocate for one.

You can find information on the Chicago Debates Summer Institute here.

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