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VHS Debate Club Connects With Brazil


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Verona High School has a small Debate Club, which usually participates in events close to home. But on May 6, the VHS club used video conferencing technology to talk about debating with students located a 13-hour plane ride away in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

“It was really cool to be able to talk to people when we are all stuck in our houses,” says Madrid Rodner, one of the VHS students who participated. “But without the virus, it might not have happened.”

A few weeks ago, VHS Librarian Elissa Malespina was contacted by Alexandre Nunes, an English teacher at Colegio Santa Cruz, a private high school in Sao Paulo that is also on remote learning because of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. He was looking for help in structuring a virtual debate among his students and had found a website on virtual debates that Malespina had made while she was the librarian at South Orange Middle School and Somerville Middle School. She said she’d be happy to help, and promptly emailed the members of the VHS Debate Club, for which she is the faculty advisor.

“I was so excited I immediately starting spamming and texting Madrid and Aidan,” says Audrey Ng, a junior in the VHS Club, of Rodner and fellow club member Aidan Dyer. ” ‘Why are there random kids in Brazil who want to talk to us?’ ” The call ultimately brought the Verona students in contact with almost 200 students and faculty at the Brazilian school.

Dyer, also now a junior, has been part of the Debate Club since his freshman year, but he freely admits that Verona is not one of the top New Jersey debate teams. “We’re not the best debaters, but we have done a lot of research on debate,” he says.

And a lot of preparation. VHS is part of the National Speech & Debate Association in the U.S., which every month sends out a new argument for students to work on. Debaters must be prepared to argue both sides of a given question, which Ng sees as a benefit. “In today’s age, we have more of a headline than a discussion,” she says. “It’s important to see things from a different perspective. Empathy can be hard when you are passionate about something.”

For their first virtual gathering, the VHS students went over debate basics with their Brazilian counterparts, things like how to identify a good debate topic and how to respond to questions from judges. “Most of them speak Portuguese and English, which is really impressive,” says Dyer.

The Verona students hope to continue their virtual exchanges with the Brazilian students on Wednesdays, a “flex day” in VHS’ current remote learning schedule that can accommodate the 60 to 90 minutes that the students would like to spend on virtual debating. The Verona students will mentor the Brazilian students in their debate preparation and eventually serve as judges in debates between them. And Ng hopes that more VHS students will join Debate Club in the future. “You get a change to make other people understand a different perspective,” she says, “whether it is how to wash dishes or your political views.”

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]


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