Weingart Grant Opens Doors For CMC-LAUSD Debate Program

CMC has received a grant of $42,000 from Los Angeles-based Weingart Foundation to underwrite a new debate league that will benefit hundreds of under-served middle school students in northeastern Los Angeles. As part of the grant, CMC students will be able to pursue internships to learn more about nonprofit management. CMC students will perform a variety of important tasks to implement the grant, including working with L.A. Unified School District teachers and producing debate curriculum and video resources.

According to John Meany, CMC director of forensics, student interns will be able to apply the skills they have learned in preparation for their own competitive and public events. The interns will be called on to use their professional communication and advanced argumentation techniques to support and innovate educational outreach program development.

“As anyone familiar with secondary school reform understands, this is both a serious challenge and outstanding opportunity,” Meany says.

The Weingart Foundation awarded the grant over the summer to the Middle School Public Debate Program at CMCan outreach of The Claremont Colleges Debate Union. The infusion of funding makes it possible for the first time for debate organizers to work with educators and students in the second-largest school district in the country.

Although the Middle School Public Debate Program has successfully expanded its operations into Washington, D.C., and just recently, New York, “We’ve never had a partner school in LAUSD,” says director of debate outreach Kate Shuster. “This will serve as a seed to create more leagues in what is essentially a monumental district.”

Within the first 18 months of the program’s launch this fall, more than 500 students in Los Angeles County schools that primarily serve socially and economically disadvantaged communities are expected to engage in classroom and contest debate tournaments, Shuster says. The league will function as a demonstration project for the greater-Los Angeles metropolitan area, although the goal is for a sustainable program that can operate beyond its initial start-up.

“This really is an opportunity to foster leadership and critical thinking skills, and encourage civic engagement among adolescents in the county’s most disadvantaged communities,” Shuster says.

The Middle School Public Debate Program is the largest and fastest growing classroom and contest debate outreach program for students in fifth through eighth grade. Since its inception in 2002, more than 10,000 students from Southern California communities have participated in the program, says Shuster, who teamed with Meany to create the program from scratch.

CMC students, too, will benefit from the expansion into LAUSD, Shuster says, with the creation of internship opportunities that expose them to nonprofit management. By working directly with teachers on debate curriculum and materials, “CMCers will have an important role overseeing the development of middle school debate programs in Los Angeles.”