Posted Date: 01/12/2018
Word of mouth is a powerful tool. In the three years Chase Reed has been teaching debate and forensics at Chanute High school, student interest doubled and so did the number of classes where students could practice argument, learn logic and compete using their communication skills.
That surge in participation and performance did not go unnoticed, and the National Speech and Debate Association informed Reed that the CHS program will receive its highest honor as one of 108 schools across the country to be awarded the 2016-2017 Leading Chapter Award.
The Leading Chapter Award for the South Kansas District recognizes the number of students involved in the program, and their participation in debate and forensic tournaments. As students compete, they earn membership points and their first degree certificate when they reach 25 points. They earn advanced degrees for reaching 150 points, 250 points, 500 and 750 points. Three CHS students, Ragen Smith, Kristin Umbarger and Carly Wilson, have already earned special distinction degrees for accumulating 500 points.
Reed is enthusiastic about debate and public speaking, but denies being able to motivate students to enroll in his classes.
“These kids motivate themselves or they wouldn’t be here,” he said. “They are overwhelmed at first. In fact, I almost have to lock the door so they won’t leave when they see how much work it is.”
Jay Brown, a first-year debater, said he appreciates the in-depth discussions among the students, which he hasn’t found anywhere else. Jacob Larson likes the argument. Both have qualified for the state debate tournament this year, along with John Stanley, Hunter Walker, and seniors Umbarger and Smith.
“I’ve really always liked to talk and debate is like my outlet,” Larson said. “You learn how to speak appropriately and correctly, when and how you should.”
“We try to spread the word a lot,” Brown said, and encourage other students to enroll. “Debate is good for everyone, not just those going into law. You get really good at talking to other people and being persuasive. No matter what you do in your life, you can use those skills.”
“You really have to be knowledgeable,” Larson added. “You can’t get through life not knowing how to speak, from job interviews to talking with co-workers. You still need to know how to speak appropriately and when to speak.”
Larson referred to Reed as his motivator, but it may be the teacher’s own passion and talent for public speaking that inspires his students.
Reed said he starts the school year by moving the podium to front and center in his classroom. He tells his students that the podium is just as symbolic as the American flag, because it’s a symbol of freedom of speech.
“People have fought and died so I can stand and speak the truth,” he tells them. “For some students that is a crucial point. In debate they can speak their mind without getting into trouble.”
It empowers them.
“We have an opportunity in speech and debate to prepare the people who are going to lead us,” Reed said. “I see kids that have integrity, are humble, respectful, and they’re learning leadership and service skills,” Reed said. “This semester they will participate in congressional debate where they will put on the hat of a senator, problem solve,” and talk about issues while representing the public.
“I think it boils down to helping them find their voice. I think they find their voice (in) here.”
“It’s really fun, to get to argue on purpose,” Larson admits, but there is more to it.
“He pushes me further than I ever thought I could go. He teaches me new speaking methods, research methods, how to write … and throws me into uncomfortable situations to make me more comfortable,” he said.
Reed believes debate skills transfer to other academic areas. He’s seen students who struggle in other classes get behind the podium and present solid reasons why Catalonia deserves its independence from Spain.
“The amount of research they do is tremendous. It really teaches critical thinking and a formal approach to logic,” Reed said. “They’re never really taught logic except in debate. We give it some formal instruction and they’re able to think critically about issues.”
The six students who qualified for state in policy debate will compete Jan. 12-13 at Coffeyville.
This spring, they will gear up for forensics which encompasses 20 events. Reed will coach the congressional debate and public speaking categories and Homer Bearrick has been hired to coach students in the acting and interpretive events.
Reed credited Amber Toth, speech and debate teacher at Fort Scott, for making his program what it is today.
“When I first came to Chanute she took me under her wing and mentored me. That’s the kind of community we have in speech and debate. They recognize if we get stronger (all the SEK programs) get stronger in competition. Without her I know my program would not be where it is,” Reed said.
Story By: Connie Woodard