Pasadena-based NOVA 42 Speech and Debate Academy Scores Big for 8th Graders

Luke Kim photo by Nova 42

NOVA 42 Speech and Debate Academy’s emphasis on teaching its students critical thinking proved to be an effective strategy for two of its middle school students competing at the Jack Howe Invitational High School Speech and Debate Tournament on September 29-30, 2012 at CSU Long Beach. Eighth graders Jong Hak Won and Luke Kim both did “extremely well” according to Coach Mike Kyle, also CEO of Nova 42. “This is the first tournament of the school year for Nova 42 students participating in debate and individual event [speech] categories,” Coach Mike said in a recent interview. He continued, “Luke broke into Octa-finals and won 8th Place Speaker overall in Lincoln Douglas Debate. This is especially impressive,” he added, “given that the other 150-some participants were all high school students.” The tournament, one of the largest in the state, offered three styles of debate: Policy, Parliamentary and Lincoln Douglas, with Lincoln Douglas being a one-on-one format while the others involve partners. The tournament also offered speech events in Impromptu, Original Oratory and Interpretation categories.

Jong Hak and Luke, as debate partners, were entered into the novice category of the high school tournament because Coach Mike was confident in their abilities to hold their own. He said, “Such challenge would also help with their phenomenal growth as debaters and individuals.” Coach Mike added, “Jong Hak had a record of 4 wins and 2 losses, while Luke—Jong Hak’s often-times debate partner in other forms of debate–had 5 wins and 1 loss up to octa-finals. The real win for both of them is that they did so well in the more difficult Lincoln Douglas debate format. They both just learned the Lincoln Douglas format this year. Their previous experience had been in Public Forum debate.” Luke was guaranteed a spot in the octa-finals because of his 5 wins. He also had strong speaker points, getting him a coveted trophy as one of the top ten speakers in the 150 participant pool. Luke lost in the octa-finals round against a high school student from Torrey Pines High School near San Diego, but Coach Mike said, “Luke put up a great fight. Several coaches even commented to me about Luke’s and Jong Hak’s stellar debate abilities.”

One of the basic principles at NOVA 42 Speech and Debate Academy is teaching kids how to think better. Coach Mike believes that if he can provide students with the foundation of critical thinking it will help kids respond more quickly and strongly as well as think through their persuasive arguments more thoroughly. Coach Mike attributes Luke’s and Jong Hak’s strong showing at the tournament to their commitment to learning critical thinking skills and implementing solid research and writing techniques. “With all of the actual books here and other resources here, students get an advantage many other private academies can’t offer.” He also cites his academy’s strength being based on the fact that he is an actual and seasoned debater and coach and the same person running the academy. He points out how his academy can implement administrative policies that are focused on the students’ maximum learning, not solely economic reasons. He added, “This has always been a dream of mine, to have a speech and debate academy. I love it. It’s my purpose in life and I make it fun for the kids. They work hard but have fun.”

Another principle at NOVA 42 is teaching kids how to suspend their biases or beliefs and learn to look at things from multiple perspectives. “If we can do that—focus on the thinking and expanding it—they will end up as fantastic debaters. It’s a logical progression,” says Coach Mike. He added, “If we train better thinking skills, we develop kids into better speakers because their brains are clearer and their mouths are not tied up trying to say something smart. When you think better, it’s just a matter of your mouth trying to keep up with your brain. I think the same thing happens academically. A sharper mind can focus better on standardized tests like the SAT and can grasp test prep strategies more quickly and concisely.”

Students learn to think about and deal with difficult subjects affecting our world. These topics can lead to deep discussions about ethics and morality. Kids often ask, “Is it right to do this?” or “Is it wrong to do that?” When they research the evidence and data behind such topics, they gain a broader perspective on important issues today. In fact at the Jack Howe tournament, the Lincoln Douglas topic was, “Giving Due Process Rights to Terrorists.” Coach Mike admitted the topic might seem one-sided to many people, but his debate students had to argue effectively for both sides of the issue. “It’s a challenge,” he said, “but the kids understood the topic and what was needed to win on each side.” Coach Mike compared the tournament rounds as an “intellectual football contest” in which some speeches are to attack and some are to defend.

Another benefit of critical thinking training is that kids develop confidence. They learn to stand taller, speak with more projection, make better eye contact. Coach Mike adds, “Student also develop better character because critical thinking helps them to examine their own prejudices, assumptions and biases and set them aside. They also learn to see the other side’s perspective.”

Most of the students that study speech and debate at NOVA 42 attend schools spread out locally and in nearby towns such as Pasadena, Arcadia, Valencia, Rancho Cucamonga, La Canada and La Crescenta. Most students attend public school. Many started with Coach Mike over a year ago. He knows the individual strengths and weaknesses of each of his students and how to maximize the former and minimize the latter.

In the end, NOVA 42 envisions its students will become better citizens of the world as they examine all sides of an argument, learn more compassion and attain broader perspectives on issues affecting them and the world.

Other speech and debate tournaments that are lined up for students at NOVA 42 are the CSU Fullerton tournament, the Schurr High School tournament, the USC Trojan Championship, the Harker School tournament and other tournaments ranging from elementary school level to high school.

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