Marco Zepeda and Caitlin Walsh, seniors at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, created "Speak Up!" — a three-week summer program for inner-city middle school students.
Younger students find their voices
with Bishop O'Dowd debaters' help
Jada Washington , a rising eighth-grader at St. Jarlath School in Oakland, has a new sense of confidence speaking in front of a crowd.
Chalk that up to her participation in "Speak Up!" — a student-run summer program designed to expose youngsters to the art and importance of communication, critical thinking and public speaking.
Created and led by the incoming captains of Bishop O'Dowd High School's Speech and Parliamentary Debate teams, Caitlin Walsh '14 and Marco Zepeda '14, the three-week program included one-on-one tutoring, group lessons and practice speeches.
Jada cites the importance of posture as one of the key things she learned. "If you have good posture, you look more confident and your audience gets the feeling that what you're talking about matters," she said.
Caitlin and Marco came up with the concept for "Speak Up!" and worked with O'Dowd President Steve Phelps to create the unique and free summer offering for inner-city middle school students interested in public speaking and debate.
"We were talking about something we could do during the summer to help out. This is a subject we know pretty well and we thought it would be a good idea to teach other kids who may not have the opportunity to learn it elsewhere," Marco said. "It's important for kids to learn how to communicate in a way that's appealing."
Caitlin said that while content is important, delivery is critical. "If you can't deliver the content in a convincing and confident manner, it sometimes becomes irrelevant," she said.
They charged the middle-schoolers with researching topics, and then talked with them about how to organize and present the information gathered. "They would give their speeches and we'd critique them and ask them questions to encourage them to go more in depth on the topic," Marco said.
"When you are up at the podium you want to feel like you know what you're talking about and have some 'go to' strategies," Caitlin said.
They also organized group presentations and showed videos of speeches by President Obama and former President Bill Clinton to illustrate public speaking skills and strategies.
"The kids totally exceeded our expectations. They asked us really good questions and took advantage of the opportunity," Marco said. "For these kids, it's just a matter of fine tuning because they are so far ahead of the middle school level."
By the end of the camp, Caitlin said, the students' personalities were more apparent in their speeches and their confidence levels had soared.
Learning wasn't limited to the students, either. "Teaching this program has deepened my understanding and appreciation of speech and debate," she said. "As I watched the kids develop their skills I not only found new strategies to sharpen my own, but also discovered creative and effective ways to teach and engage the students.
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