Park City elementary students excel at state debate competition

Back row, from left: Jack Revoy, Ben Butler, Greta Bretts, Maddie McHenry, Elyse Engel and Ella Wismer. Front row, from left: Erin Donovan and Olivia Johnson. The students are members of the debate club at Parley's Park Elementary School.
Carolyn Webber/Park Record

The students in DeEtte Earl’s class have a knack for arguing, a trait she encourages them to develop. After all, they are members of Parley’s Park Elementary School’s debate team.

A total of 20 fifth- and sixth-grade students in the Park City School District recently attended the state debate competition and walked away with several accolades. Earl started the program at Parley’s Park about seven years ago before expanding it to all of the elementary schools in the district.

She said that this year was the best the district has ever done at state.

Teammates Ella Wismer and Erin Donovan from Parley’s Park took first place in the affirmative group, and Kelly Richardson and Amelia Grishom from Jeremy Ranch Elementary School took first place in the negative. Five other teams also took home honors and Ben Butler from Parley’s Park was recognized with the Outstanding Speaker Award.

It was many of the students’ first year in the debate program, and they were up against 60 fifth- and sixth-grade teams from around the Salt Lake Valley.

The students in Earl’s debate class learn to write and verbally dispute topics throughout the school year. They started preparing for the competitive season in January and spent four mornings in class preparing, plus time at home practicing, Earl said. They attended school and district competitions to qualify for state.

They spent most of their time researching and making note cards, which they could use while debating, Earl said. The topic for the competition was “the benefits of government regulation on education.”

The Parley’s Park students said that they came to the event anxious after seeing the size of the competition, but they warmed up as they moved through each of the three rounds.

“I was nervous for the first of it but after, I got used to it and then instead of being nervous, it was really fun,” said Jack Revoy, one of the students on Parley’s Park’s team who attended state.

By the time the eight students from Parley’s Park got to the awards ceremony, they were feeling confident. Donovan, who ended up winning first place with her teammate, said they decided to scream as loud as they could if anyone from their school won.

“We all held hands and crossed our fingers,” she said.

When the announcer named the winners, they kept their promise.

They said that they were happy and excited to win, but also glad to have been a part of the program.

Donovan said that part of the reason that she likes debate is because she is learning about real issues in an interesting format.

“It is such a cool learning environment,” she said. “After you debate something, you get to learn so much about what (your opponents) did. You get to learn from everyone around you.”

Wismer, Donovan’s partner, agreed. She said they frequently discuss current events in their debates. Through the class, she has learned how to better prove a point, which she said will be a good skill in the future.

Parley’s Park’s Maddie McHenry, who received second place with her teammate Greta Bretts, said that she enjoys the team aspect of debate and that she has learned the importance of teamwork through the debate team.

Bretts said she enjoys learning to argue better.

Earl said that she loves to see the students improve their public speaking skills throughout the year, as well as their confidence and evidence-based reasoning. She said that they are widely transferable skills that the students will likely use in the future.

Though the students attribute their win to Earl, who they said is “the best debate teacher,” Earl said that it was the students that made the difference.

“The kids had so much drive this year to be the best they could be,” she said. “They had a passion for debate that I’ve never seen in my kids before.”


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