Concordia’s speech team has been inviting some new members to its practices–high school students.
Joe Kennedy, one of the team coaches, is putting a fresh spin on the weekly political discussions he conducts for Concordia’s speech team by inviting Fargo-Moorhead high school students to attend. Each 90-minute discussion, referred to as a “roundtable,” challenges students on their knowledge of global issues that they may have to speak about in future competitions.
“I’ve been coaching a roundtable format since 2004,” said Kennedy, who previously coached for speech teams at George Mason University and high schools in Illinois and Virginia.
“One person leads the roundtable, and comes prepared with some background information… and a series of questions to ask,” he said. “The questions are usually phrased just like competition questions, although sometimes the questions… get people thinking outside the box in a way that competition questions usually can’t.”
Team members who attend the roundtables compete in the category of extemporaneous speaking, which requires students to answer a different politically-oriented question each round after just 30 minutes of preparation time.
According to Kennedy, extemporaneous speaking requires students to follow good argumentation principles, and the roundtable discussions allow students to hone these skills.
Extemp, as it is commonly called, is very similar on the college and high school levels, so it made sense to Kennedy that high school students be asked to participate.
“Good extemp is good extemp,” he said.
Kennedy said that the roundtable allows Concordia coaches and competitors to share what they have learned with high school students in a way that minimally impacts the team’s time and the financial capacity of the college.
One student who accepted the roundtable invitation is Shaker Ali, a junior and team captain at Moorhead High School.
“I heard about an opportunity to sit and work with college extempers, so it couldn’t be passed up,” Ali said. “Joe Kennedy reached out to all schools in the FM area and it sounded like a grand occasion to learn from much more experienced people.”
So far the experience has been challenging yet rewarding, Ali said.
“To say the least I was pretty intimidated by having to sit with Joe and such a high caliber of extemp college kids, some of them seniors,” Ali said. “I’ve realized that there is much room to improve… and so far I have already begun developing a new style of extemp.”
Sam Benson, a senior at Moorhead High, shared his teammate’s sentiment.
“I have been challenged by the discussion and (the roundtable) has helped me learn more about both domestic and international topics,” he said.
In addition to supporting high school students, the speech team’s initiative has a secondary purpose of strengthening the competitiveness of its own members.
One team member who has benefited is senior Britt Aasmundstad, who has attended the roundtables since Kennedy instituted them at Concordia the beginning of the 2011-2012 season. Along with a few other veteran teammates, Aasmundstad is frequently picked by Kennedy to answer roundtable questions.
“We’ve all known each other for such a long time that I’m going to refer to a certain teammate and maybe put less work on myself because I know they’ll be able to talk about it,” said Aasmundstad. “We have to make sure that we make better arguments; (the high school students) force us to be better.”
Additionally, the high school students bring some life to the potentially-dull political discussions.
“They’re fun and nice so they kind of require us all to lighten up a little bit,” Aasmundstad said.
Though Kennedy has conducted only a couple roundtables with the high school students so far, he has already seen favorable results.
“Last week, two students from Moorhead High School attended, and they capably participated,” said Kennedy. “They were willing to make claims and defend them, and their critiques of others’ arguments demonstrated respect and fortitude. This is, of course, what we hoped for, and I’m gratified to see high school participation off to a good start.”
This article was written by Alex Gray, a contributing writer for The Concordian. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org