Part of SVUDL’s mission is to harness the skills learned through debate to transform the expectations of what low-income youth can achieve. Learning the art of debate is where many first learn to find their voice through focus and self-discipline. U.S. Senator from Massachusetts and 2020 Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren shares how debate gave her the foundation to channel her own ambitions:
SVUDL debater Sofia Funk, a student at Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School, recently completed a summer internship for high school students interested in public interest law and serving the San Jose community. In partnership with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, the SVUDL internship program is only one week long, but it makes a lasting impact for a lifetime.
What’s the exciting week look like?
The SVUDL student accompanies Law Foundation attorneys to court hearings and trainings. The student also has the opportunity to interact with social workers, community workers, and intake managers.
Sofia had the opportunity to obtain a broad overview of Law Foundation advocacy work and to learn what a typical day is like in the life of a legal services employee.
Sofia found her week to be fun, rewarding and educational. Interacting and working with over a dozen different attorneys, social workers, administrative staff, Sofia shared these aspects of her experience:
Q. What surprised you about your experience?
A. One aspect that surprised me about my internship was the different people that come together to provide services. It's not just attorneys. There are social workers, administrators, intake teams, volunteers, and so many people who collaborate to help clients. This experience really opened my eyes to the different ways I can get involved in public interest law, as an attorney or otherwise. I also shadowed several people through trainings and client meetings. Each day, I met with a different staff member of an area of the Law Foundation, allowing me a wide range of informational experiences.
Q. Did it make you think about becoming a lawyer?
A. Before doing this internship, I was very unsure about whether law was the right path for me. I envisioned working in a corporate environment for long hours every day and hating my job. But from what I saw, everyone loved the work they were doing. Work-life balance is definitely a priority. This internship introduced me to an area of law that is devoted to helping people, and really piqued my interest in public interest law.
Q. What was one of your favorite experiences this summer?
A. One of the most interesting things I did at my internship was meet with different professionals. The Law Foundation set up informational meetings with attorneys, social workers, and administrators from different departments. I got the chance to learn about several areas of public interest law. For example, one attorney talked to me about education law, which I had never heard of before! It was a great learning experience, and everyone presented their areas of expertise in very interesting ways.
Q. What did you find to be the nexus between debate and law?
A. Debate teaches a lot of skills that are helpful when going into law. Public speaking, research, and persuasiveness are some of the more obvious skills, but debate also teaches things like crafting an argument for specific types of judges. One attorney I spoke with talked about getting to know judges and their judging styles so that they know how they should present their argument in court for maximum effectiveness. This is exactly what we do in debate!
Q. Did you face any challenges?
A. The most challenging aspect for me about the internship was absorbing all of the information. I learned so much and took pages and pages of notes, but I feel like since there was so much information, I may have missed some things.
Q. What advice do you have for others considering this opportunity for next summer?
A. For those thinking about doing this internship next year, know that it comes highly recommended! I would recommend other students apply for this internship even if they aren’t sure if they want to study law for two main reasons.
First, it offers the opportunity to see the day-to-day work of a public interest attorney. This was very helpful for me because it clarified many of the misconceptions I had about law. For example, I learned that depending on the field of law you specialize in, most of your day could be spent filing paperwork!
Second, interning at the Law Foundation provides insight into not only law, but other fields as well, such as social work and administration. It was very interesting to see how different professions intersected to help provide legal services to clients. The Law Foundation is made up of more than just attorneys!
Q. Any other advice?
A. Be ready to take notes and speak with a lot of people every day. Don't be afraid to ask for a break if you need one. But the most important thing to remember is to ask all of the questions that you can think of during the internship.
This internship offers the opportunity to meet with several professionals. Take advantage of the experience to the fullest extent possible! Ask about their educational journey and what led them to their current career. Ask for any advice they may have as you continue your own educational journey! Everyone you'll speak with will be very friendly and open to have a conversation. There is a lot of advice to be had, even if you ultimately decide not to go to law school.
A Symbiotic Week
The staff found that they received as much back from Sofia as they did in supporting her experience:
Education Attorney Julia Souza found Sofia to be an absolute joy to work with and was especially impressed by how knowledgeable she was about the social justice issues that are integral to the work.
LACY Directing Attorney Andrew Cain recalled that Sofia showed an eagerness to learn and asked very appropriate questions as she was being exposed to many different areas of the law.
Supervising Attorney Alexis Moody noted that Sofia’s positive attitude reverberated throughout the office.
Intake Specialist Christine Nguyen observed that Sofia has a genuine interest in the public and in the community.
Housing Supervising Attorney Brandon Lawrence found Sofia to be poised, well-spoken and very inquisitive. She was very adaptable to the unpredictable nature of the housing court’s schedule.
Clearly, the summer internship was a fantastic experience for everyone involved. We look forward to next summer!
Jasleen Randhawa, a rising junior at Silver Creek High School in San Jose, was a member of one of the teams representing SVUDL at the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL) championship tournament in Washington, D.C. in April, and a member of the SVUDL team that placed 9th out of more than 200 teams at the National Forensic League championship tournament in Milwaukee in May. She recently shared how SVUDL has changed her perspective on her own life and her goals for the future:
Q. What strikes you the most about your experience with SVUDL?
A. When I look at other students my age, many of them are not interested in politics. It is through SVUDL that I learned how important policy changes are to our daily lives. This insight comes from debate. Being able to vote, we should have an interest.
Q. What surprises you?
A. I’m actually shocked by how many people my age are not involved. Debate lends a world-view and makes you more empathetic. What used to be just statistics in a debate on a topic of immigration become news stories. I see how rough and broken our system is and how it’s affecting people’s lives. Debate through SVUDL has changed my perspective permanently.
Q. How has SVUDL changed you as a person?
When I first got involved, I wasn’t very outgoing, but with the experience of SVUDL, I learned the value of being able to communicate well with others. I especially like that the skills aren’t contained solely within the debate space. They transfer and translate well into every aspect of life.
Q. How did you get involved with SVUDL?
I heard about SVUDL on the first day of my freshman year of high school. I already loved arguing with other people, and spent a lot of time debating my family and friends.
Q. What was the experience like in the beginning?
Once I met Coach Jimi, I knew I had found my place in the world. The biggest challenge was getting accustomed to losing many of the debates my freshman year.
I learned that it was a fact of life of the journey, and that although it is hard to keep your spirits up under the tensions of constantly losing, I saw that you have to grow as a person and as a debater before you can win.
Q. How has SVUDL impacted you?
The best part is not only did I become more outgoing and self-confident, but I don’t lose as much anymore. It is hard for me to recall which tournament was my first win freshman year, but I do remember the sheer joy of jumping up and down outside the room with my partner rejoicing over that first win.
SVUDL has had a major influence on me for the major I am thinking about for college. I used to want to be a doctor but now I am genuinely thinking about becoming a lawyer.
Q. What do you most enjoy about SVUDL?
I particularly love the opportunities SVUDL provides, especially that I don’t have to worry about paying for the expenses that come along with the debate team. Having debate be accessible and free means I am able to enjoy the experience itself without any unnecessary added stress. One of my favorite aspects of debate is that I get to dress up for tournaments and spend my Saturdays talking about politics.
We are seeking volunteers to judge our debate tournament for the final day of our Summer Debate Institute on Friday, July 26. No previous experience required as we will provide training for volunteer judges. Here is the current working schedule for the tournament:
9:00am-9:30am Breakfast & Morning Announcements
9:45am Round 1 Pairings
10:00am -12 pm Round 1
12:00pm-1:00pm Lunch & Novice Debrief
1:15pm Round 2 Pairings
1:30pm-3:30pm Round 2
3:30pm-4:00pm Snack Break
3:45pm Round 3 Pairings
4:00pm-6:00pm Round 3
6:00pm-7:00pm Dinner, Awards, Camp Wrap Up!
If you are available to judge one or more rounds, please sign up at https://www.svudl.org/volunteer/
In June, SVUDL students and staff attended a research workshop at White and Case in Palo Alto, led by Senior Researcher Joyce Bang, partner and current SVUDL Legal Advisory Committee member Eric Lancaster, Associate Hallie Kiernan, and several summer law associates.
Using next year's national high school policy debate topic of arms sales as a foundation, the White and Case team showed SVUDL students and coaches best practices on how to effectively leverage the LexisNexis platform to find timely, relevant, and credible sources of information. The students honed their skills searching for information on items like foreign military sales and direct commercial sales of arms. They also explored free online resources to augment the arguments they will be making during the next debate season.
The group also had the opportunity to meet special guest speaker Josh Becker. Josh talked about his experiences as a lawyer, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and prospective state senator. He shared how his experiences as a debater in high school helped build valuable, lifelong skills such as critical thinking, extemporaneous speaking, and collaboration that were all vital to his career paths.
Josh talked about the value of taking risks and learning from challenges and failures. He conveyed how he applies those specific skills to advance his specific passions, including improving the state's education and transportation systems, and the need to address climate change.
Thank you to the White and Case team for sharing their expertise. This support will strengthen all of our students to become leaders and help to shift expectations of what low-income youth can achieve.
SVUDL is proud to announce that Yesenia Villaseñor, Tesla’s Managing Environmental, Health & Safety Counsel, will be joining our Legal Advisory Committee.
Ms. Villaseñor previously worked as an EHS Attorney for Exelon Corporation and with Caterpillar. She began her legal career as an associate at the law firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP.
Ms. Villaseñor graduated from Chicago-Kent Law School and earned her MS in Environmental Management from the Stuart School of Business. Prior to moving to California to work for Tesla, she served as a volunteer and pro-bono attorney for organizations including the National Immigrant Justice Center.
Ms. Villaseñor also served on the board of the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois and co-chaired the JD Mentors Program. She has received numerous recognitions for her pro bono work including a 2010 award for Excellence in Pro Bono from the Northern District of Illinois and the Chicago Chapter of the Federal Bar Association in a child abduction case under The Hague Convention.
Ms. Villaseñor is passionate about the subject of climate change and environmental sustainability. In 2009, she was selected to join the Climate Reality Project, an organization founded and chaired by former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore. The Climate Reality Project is dedicated to unleashing a global cultural movement demanding action on the climate crisis and includes volunteers from around the world. Yesenia provides free presentations on the issue of climate change: audiences have included middle & high school students at various schools, the FBI Chicago Office and U.S. EPA Region V as part of Hispanic heritage month.
Ms. Villaseñor is a mother, world-traveler and an advocate for judicial, ethnic and socio-economic justice. Her accomplishments range from achieving asylum relief for a tortured West African political refugee to assisting Central American children facing deportation.
We look forward to partnering with Yesenia Villaseñor as we bring together leaders from the Silicon Valley legal community to help students realize their dreams of becoming successful lawyers.
SVUDL is pleased to announce that Shayne O’Reilly will be joining our Legal Advisory Committee on behalf of Facebook. Shayne is the Associate General Counsel for Intellectual Property Litigation where he manages domestic and international intellectual property litigation matters.
Shayne’s clear understanding of our mission along with his passion for providing access to professional careers and environments makes him a perfect addition to our team.
Prior to Facebook, Shayne worked for Kilpatrick, Townsend & Stockton where his practice focused on intellectual property law, with a primary focus on patent litigation, client counseling, technology transactions, and other related matters.
Shayne is a registered patent attorney. He earned his Bachelor of Science from North Carolina A&T State University and his JD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law.
Together, we look forward to changing outcomes for underserved youth. Welcome to the team, Shayne!
Ellen Ehrenpreis has a passion for working with companies making an impact in the world.
A partner in the Silicon Valley office of Orrick, Ellen has devoted substantial time and effort over many years serving on boards of directors and in pivotal roles for nonprofit organizations.
Now she is bringing her dedication to the SVUDL community!
Ellen’s background is a perfect fit for our team. She has spent more than twenty years in the tech and venture ecosystem and leverages her broad network and deep understanding of both the tech sector and legal landscape to effectively and strategically advise emerging companies and investors on a wide range of critical needs. She advises companies and founders on formation, venture financings, governance, M&A transactions, corporate and securities matters, commercial transactions and litigation strategy.
Ellen has represented both private and public companies and has worked with small startups and large multinational enterprises, as well as the executives, investors and advisors involved in those businesses. Ellen also works closely with some of the leading venture capital and growth equity firms, whose principals she advises in connection with financings, equity structuring and corporate governance.
Her clients have included companies in the semiconductor, SAAS, renewables, fintech, aerospace, digital retail, online sharing, biotech/biopharma, media, design and data analytics fields, among others.
Prior to Orrick, Ellen was a member of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and a co-founder of Edgewood Law Partners LLP. Ellen is also a former competitive figure skater, a devoted wife and the mother of three teenage children.
We look forward to collaborating with Ellen to help our students tap the power of their voices to compete, excel and change the world through the rigor and thrill of the academic sport of debate.
On Monday, May 13th, SVUDL students visited the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley for a look into the world of law.
Guided by Elizabeth Wells, a Senior Attorney at the Law Foundation, students learned about potential applications for the skills they have acquired throughout school and debate life. The Law Foundation uses the law as a tool for change in matters dealing with housing, children and youth, or physical and mental health, to ensure everyone has access to opportunities regardless of their circumstances.
During the visit, students also traveled to downtown San Jose’s Family Justice Center Courthouse to meet with one of the judges: Jose S. Franco. Once inside students engaged in a question and answer discussion with Judge Franco, learning about his journey from law school to his acquisition of judge status for the Family Justice Center.
After the courthouse visit concluded, students returned to the Law Foundation’s office to complete the day. For the remainder of the time students networked with other members of the Law Foundation team, discussing topics including law, careers, and debate.
For the first time, SVUDL is sending four teams to compete in the National Catholic Forensic League Grand National Tournament. This year’s tournament will take place over Memorial Day Weekend in Milwaukee and here are the students representing SVUDL:
Silver Creek High School, San Jose
Team 1: Jasleen Randhawa & Daksh Jain
Team 2: Loveleen Randhawa & Gaganpreet Kaur
Head Coach: Jimi Morales
Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School, San Jose
Sofia Funk & Rachel Stattion
Head Coach: Rob Burns
Downtown College Prep El Primero Campus, San Jose
Christopher McGinnis & Addis Arciniega
Head Coach: Rob Burns
SVUDL received a special donation of gift 40 gift cards, valued at $50 each, from the Ross Stores. SVUDL is awarding these cards to students participating in national tournaments toward the purchase of luggage, clothing and other travel supplies. In April, some of the students attending the NAUDL Championship Tournament in Washington, D.C. and the upcoming NCFL tournament in Milwaukee over Memorial Day Weekend scored at their local Ross store!
Avi Goel, Sandy Ouk, Jasleen Randhawa and Tiffany Tran, all students at Silver Creek High School in San Jose and coached by SVUDL Head Coach Jimi Morales, represented SVUDL during the 2019 National Association for Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL) Championship Tournament in Washington, D.C. They earned this opportunity at our Henrietta Bells Nationals Qualifiers tournament in February. As part of the trip. As part of their trip to Washington, D.C., they had a special opportunity to visit the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court!
Last week, SVUDL Silver Creek sophomores Jasleen Randhawa and Christina Vo traveled with Head Coach Jimi Morales to Spokane, WA to complete in the inaugural Saint George’s Invitational Tournament.
SVUDL was the only Bay Area team and the only Urban Debate League team competing in the tournament. SVUDL’s travel and lodging were made possible by a scholarship fund created by the parents of the Saint George’s Debate Club, and cold weather attire for our students was donated by Dress for Success San Jose (our neighbors in the Sobrato Center for Nonprofits) and our staff members. Randhawa and Vo were selected because their team won first place in the first SVUDL intra-league tournament in October (they also won the overall SVUDL tournament in February).
Randhawa loves to volunteer with children at her local public library helping to teach them to read and leading story time and arts and crafts activities when she's not competing in debate tournaments. She was excited to kick off the national season in Spokane and looks forward to the spring competition season, especially the UC Berkeley tournament. Randhawa hopes to work with children either in medicine or law in the future.
Vo can be found bouncing around campus as an officer of four different clubs including the Pre-Med club that she founded at the beginning of the school year. She is excited to continue growing as a debater and enjoys facing increasingly difficult competition. Vo hopes to one day work as a surgeon.
Randhawa and Vo competed in six over two days rounds and ended the tournament with a 1-5 record. They immensely enjoyed the experience and the opportunity to compete against some of the top varsity teams from across the country.
The Silicon Valley Urban Debate League (SVUDL) is pleased to announce that Rolland Janairo is joining the organization as its new Executive Director.
Born and raised in New York City to parents who immigrated from the Philippines, Rolland has developed a deep appreciation for the transformative power of education as a product of the NYC public school system. While attending and after graduating from Brown University, Rolland volunteered and taught at a preschool in Providence, Rhode Island. He later earned his Masters Degree in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. During his time in Boston, Rolland was the Associate Director of Teacher Development at Jumpstart for Young Children, as well as the Director of Playmaker Operations at Life is Good Playmakers. Most recently, Rolland served as the Chief Operating Officer at World Savvy. In his spare time, Rolland enjoys running, cooking, and exploring the Bay Area with his wife and two young boys.
He looks forward to “working with the SVUDL team to grow and strengthen our partnerships with schools across Silicon Valley, with aspirations to truly set our students up for success in the workforce, higher education, and beyond.”
Debate teaches students to analyze complex issues, formulate evidence-based arguments, and communicate these persuasively. By engaging students in debate, SVUDL empowers low-income youth and unlocks the power of their voices to become advocates for themselves, their future employers and their communities. SVUDL was launched in 2014 to fill a startling gap in after-school academic opportunities in high-poverty schools throughout the Silicon Valley. What began with two pilot programs in August 2014 has since grown to nearly 400 students in 11 schools and organizations. The young people it serves are 70% low-income, 90% of color, and nearly 80% are young women.
SVUDL reaches students who face incredible odds at school and at home as they work to graduate from high school and plan for their futures. Debate - by providing actual portable skills transferable to professions, business and academia - provides a singular opportunity for students to learn to operate effectively within a wide variety of settings and institutions. Having those skills will enable students to fulfill their potential, achieve their aspirations and to work to shape society in accordance with their values.
Oxford Day Academy
By Amy McElroy
The new partnership between Silicon Valley Urban Debate League (SVUDL) and Oxford Day Academy (ODA) is rooted in deeply aligned values. Like SVUDL, ODA focuses on building a pipeline of diverse leaders; directly confronting the challenges facing their underserved students from East Palo Alto; adhering to a specialized curriculum, offering opportunity for extracurricular activities, and employing teachers and staff committed to these ideals.
Specifically, ODA’s curriculum model utilizes field experience, small group instruction, independent learning time, as well as one-on-one sessions known as Oxford tutorials. Founded by CEO Mallory Dwinal, the school is well grounded in these fundamentals; Dwinal received her Ph.D. in Education at Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. Summer programs and travel to Oxford supplement the curriculum, demonstrating ODA’s commitment to broadening the students’ world view.
Policy debate taught in SVUDL’s after-school program further expands the depth of students’ education at ODA. SVUDL Head Coach Janet Escobedo said, “Oxford Day Academy's curriculum is structured to nurture critical thinking” and discussion-based learning. “Debate fits within this structure,” she explained, because it “helps students develop critical thinking” and provides students with “tools necessary for effective discussion.”
Escobedo knows first-hand the benefits of debate, as someone who grew up in the UDL network. From her hometown of Milwaukee, she considers former UDL Director LaTonya Starks a mentor and role model. Escobedo said, “[LaTonya] was a go-getter—she went above and beyond for her debaters, took extra time to coach us when it came to nationals, and used her connections to help some of her debaters—including me—to receive scholarships to great debate camps across the nation.” The impact of Starks’ efforts continues to drive Escobedo: “I have worked to become someone like her and pay it forward.”
After completing her B.A. in Political Science and International Affairs, with a minor in Urban Education at Georgia State University, Escobedo worked at the Atlanta UDL from 2010 to 2017. She also taught at her “alma mater” UDL through the Milwaukee Debate Institute. Prior to joining SVUDL, she helped students with behavior issues, teaching them to manage conflicts and interact more positively. Her passion for supporting youth and her debate experience provide great assets to the partnership.
“My background helps me connect with the students because they realize that we come from similar backgrounds.” From experience, she realizes it “is comforting to know that someone from a similar community cares enough about them to help them through whatever issues they may be facing at the moment.”
ODA’s other head coach, SVUDL’s Kwodwo Moore also comes from a rich background of UDL training, coaching experience, and demonstrated commitment to youth. He excelled in the Bay Area Urban Debate League (BAUDL) team at Emery Secondary School, then completed BAUDL's Leading With Debate Fellowship. While earning a B.A. in Philosophy at CSU East Bay, he volunteered to coach his high school team, which had lost its coach. As a sophomore, he began volunteering at SVUDL, and later became a teacher at the first and second Summer Institutes.
As explained on ODA’s website, the school’s teachers are equally dedicated and passionate about their students—hearkening back to many of SVUDL’s core intentions. English teacher Ms. McMillion said: “I work at ODA because it strives to sow the true voice of every student who is ready to be heard.”
Socio-Emotional Learning Coaches (SELC) at ODA help guide students toward both academic success and overall quality of life. “Coming from Richmond, California,” SELC Mr. Magana said, “I know the stigmas and statistics that kids of this East Palo Alto community have to face in order to aspire for something greater than what they were given.” He explained, “By providing the necessary tools of self awareness and self diligence, we hope to have the kids see the true potential in themselves.”
SVUDL’s process encompasses these same goals. Escobedo said, “The most rewarding thing is to see the self-esteem and confidence of the students grow with every debate round, especially with every win that they may have thought was going to be a loss.”
While ODA only recently opened its doors in 2017, already SVUDL is confident in the strength of their shared ideals. Escobedo is optimistic about the future of this alliance. The program provides students the important “incentive to continue with the activity of debate,” she said. “I envision the overall goals of SVUDL coming to fruition through the ODA partnership.”
Here are the results from our second intra-league tournament held on Saturday, December 8, 2018 at Yerba Buena High School in San Jose.
62 SVUDL Debaters participated in a full day of energetic and rigorous debate rounds.
48 students participated in the Varsity rounds; top varsity honors went to the team of Daksh Jain and Pranav Singamsetty of Silver Creek High School in San Jose and Jain was also the top Varsity Speaker.
14 students participated in the Novice rounds; top novice honors went to the solo team of Paulina Gutierrez Carmona from College Track in East Palo Alto and she was also the top Novice speaker.
SVUDL wishes to thank all the tournament judges (*=SVUDL alumnus, **=SVUDL board member, ***=SVUDL Partner School Teacher):
We also want to thank:
The entire staff at Yerba Buena High School for hosting us!
Washington High School (Fremont) student and debater Gandhar Mannur for his awesome support with the Tabroom system!
SVUDL Board member Jennie Savage and AR/VR Associate General Counsel at Facebook Charlotte Lewis Jones for securing donations of business attire for our students to own and wear in tournaments! The students had a great time "shopping" for their new debate looks at the tournament.
Jessica Garcia-Kohl, new Executive Director of the Westly Foundation, for attending!
SVUDL Team Member Lisa Walstrum for picking up the clothing donations at Facebook and borrowing clothing racks from a theatre company!
Downtown College Prep El Primero High School
By Amy McElroy
On the East Side of San Jose, the Silicon Valley Urban Debate League (SVUDL) recently collaborated with Downtown College Prep El Primero High School (DCP) to create a new debate program. DCP focuses on the need to educate and nurture students to become the first generation in their families to attend and graduate from college. This high school, guiding underserved students to and through college, is precisely the kind of place SVUDL believes debate should thrive.
Head Coach of the new debate team Andrea Fazel said: “DCP is committed to preparing first generation students for college success, and debate is absolutely part of that vision!” Fazel is a second-year teacher of English, Government, and Law at DCP—where curriculum trains students in independent learning, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Debate offers an opportunity to amplify those skills. “Students are engaging in high-level thinking, wrestling with complex issues, and using their voice to speak out,” Fazel said. “All of this will help our students be more confident and successful in college and beyond.”
DCP’s model highlights the connection between college and a student’s ability to change the world. The model states, in part, that “DCP fosters opportunities for critical self-discovery through our College Success Framework that addresses the academic, college and socio-emotional needs of every student. We work to offer students both traditional and innovative opportunities to be well-rounded college applicants and change-makers.”
Fazel believes the alignment between the missions at DCP and SVUDL demonstrates the benefit of this partnership: “Both DCP and SVUDL are committed to making sure doors of opportunity stay open for our students, and build student confidence that they belong anywhere that important decisions are being made.”
DCP creates an environment with free, college prep curriculum. This basic foundation is supplemented with Pre-College Enrichment summer programs and internships. The school begins introducing diverse college options in 5th grade and employs counselors who assist every student in completing the college application process. DCP also engages families in the college selection process, with detailed financial aid assistance. The school’s Broad Alumni Success program includes counseling, networking, financial and other types of support services during college.
Since its founding in 2004, DCP has operated on a similar guiding principle as SVUDL—that “DCP graduates must surmount challenges both academic and personal to become the first in their family to graduate from college (emphasis added).” The school has a tremendous track record of helping their students meet those obstacles. “DCP alumni have among the highest rates of college matriculation and are four times more likely to graduate from college than their peers nationwide,” according to the school’s data. DCP attributes its ongoing success to a set of central guiding “values – ganas [desire to succeed], comunidad, [community] and orgullo [pride].”
After 17 years of teaching experience, Fazel recently said: “I love working at DCP because there is nothing quite so energizing as being part of a community that is so mission-driven. Watching students get excited about their futures and come to believe in their own futures keeps me excited to teach!” Recognized as the 2016 Street Law Educator of the Year, Fazel graduated from UC Davis King Hall School of Law, where she competed nationally in Moot Court competitions, and won a national civil rights moot court competition. Throughout her career, Fazel has worked to bring together her passions for law and education. “I have worked in schools with a similar mission,” she said, “ensuring college success for all students, and in particular, increasing the diversity of the pipeline into law-related careers.”
SVUDL’s team liaison for DCP, Rob Burns said Fazel’s combined teaching and legal background makes her a perfect fit for this partnership. According to Burns, Fazel “really cares and understands” the deeper goals of the program.
Their mutual respect is one reason this partnership flourishes. As a teacher new to competitive debate, Fazel said Burns provides her with “invaluable” assistance. “I am so grateful for Rob's support in developing a new debate program at DCP,” Fazel said. “He brings so much enthusiasm and passion for debate, and fires up students to push themselves beyond what they thought their limits were.”
Burns explained that the current debate topic, immigration, connects on a personal level to many students at DCP—with a demographic that is 96 percent Latino. The students have a wealth of knowledge about the subject matter already, even before they begin any research. Despite his extensive background coaching debate in underserved communities, Burns said he’s learning a great deal from the students who share stories from their community. For debaters at DCP, he said, “The importance of what we’re discussing takes on a whole other level of sharpness and importance.”
Already this fall, DCP students have employed their newly developed skills in competitive settings. DCP fielded three teams at the first SVUDL tournament of the season, and one student placed in the top five speakers in his first tournament experience.
Following a November event, Burns said, “I am very proud of our freshmen. Each team was able to win their first varsity debate round, and had the opportunity to face some of the best debaters in our region. They look forward to continuing to develop their skills, and can't wait for the next tournament!”
According to Fazel, “We now have an energized debate club, and Rob has been so generous with his time and energy to support the students who are showing a passion for debate. As far as I'm concerned, the sky's the limit for this partnership!”
Yerba Buena San Jose
By Amy McElroy
Under the leadership of head coach Rob Burns, the Silicon Valley Urban Debate League (SVUDL) recently teamed up with Yerba Buena San Jose (YBSJ) to create the school’s first debate program. YBSJ is located in East San Jose, where the student body is primarily comprised of people of color and more than two thirds are economically disadvantaged. The school emphasizes college readiness by preparing its students to excel on college boards and Advanced Placement (AP) tests. Having coached in diverse settings over the course of two decades, Burns understands how debate can help prepare students—not only for these types of academic exams, but also for future career opportunities.
According to Burns, debate teaches students to “examine and analyze texts in critically high pressure situations.” He explained that “[i]n a world of high stakes testing,” debate is the perfect preparation for reading, analyzing, and responding to texts in a detailed way—using “evidence based argumentation.” Overall, Burns believes debate “prepares students for the SAT and AP tests in a way that no other extracurricular does.”
Those same skills learned in debate will carry students beyond college admittance, into college level coursework. “As I’ve told principals and others at the school,” Burns said, “the more students are involved with debate, the more prepared they will be for college.” As a former high school debater who attended college on a debate scholarship, he describes participation in debate as “unparalleled” when it comes to college readiness.
Burns began his coaching career as an assistant during college at Liberty University and Wheaton College. But since that time, he said, “I’ve worked a lot with urban students and in urban contexts.” And he’s done so with great success. For instance, at North Star Academy in Newark, he coached two New Jersey Novice State Champions and the first varsity policy team in New Jersey history to win the prestigious Harvard debates. Last year, two of his teams finished as quarterfinalists and octafinalists at the 2018 Tournament of Champions.
In this new partnership, Burns said, “I try to present debate in a way that can connect with the students at Yerba Buena.” He noted the multi-racial population and the economic challenges confronting many of the students. Because of his past work in similar environments, he’s able to connect with YBSJ’s student body. He draws on his experience working with students facing the same “logistical and practical issues that [YBSJ’s] students face.”
Burns coaches alongside a faculty advisor in the newly-formed, after-school debate program. “I really just love the teacher that I’m working with, Michael Low,” Burns said. “He does an excellent job of not lowering expectations. He expects that students will be able to understand complex ideas.” As a result, Burns explained, “The students are all willing to take on complex issues and do the reading. It’s not always easy to get students to take on issues of race or cultural issues. But there’s a culture [Low has] created that encourages them to take on difficult social issues.”
According to Burns, the larger culture surrounding YBSJ is also supportive of the students and fosters the success of the SVUDL partnership. He specifically noted: “the interest of the community in the school, the huge new community center, and the parents—who are great.” At YBSJ, Burns values what he sees as “the best of public education, when it’s connected to community, as well.”
In Burns’ view, the overall objectives of SVUDL and YBSJ align well to create opportunities. In particular, YBSJ’s mission to create a “safe accepting and motivating academic environment that challenges and empowers its diverse population…” to “be prepared to successfully participate in society” echoes Burn’s primary goals for the debate program.
On a fundamental level, through SVUDL, Burns strives to promote success among diverse students in the legal field. “We want to increase participation of students of color in law and politics,” he said. “Part of the work really advances that goal because there are a lot of women of color” who make up a majority of YBSJ’s debate program who are “really getting interested in issues of asylum law.” Then, when they go to tournaments, students learn skills and make connections to the legal community, which help advance their careers.
But Burns sees a secondary goal to debate, related to the obstacles that these underserved students face. He spoke of the need to bridge barriers of financing and opportunity through scholarships and academic achievement. He also addressed students’ mental and emotional barriers: the way students perceive government has treated them, and their natural and legitimate suspicion toward the law. In the context of debate, Burns explained, “We give students the opportunity to reflect on things they feel rightfully angry or skeptical about.” With respect to hurdles faced by students at YBSJ, he said, “Debate attacks many of those varying factors at once.”
Burns wants to show his students how to “use law and policy to transform their world instead of seeing it as something done to them—to convince them of their own agency.” Only then will many of these students “envision themselves as future lawyers and policymakers.” But he believes we can “close the gap through debate.” According to Burns, “The most important thing is that students recognize they have a voice that belongs in the halls of power—that they imagine themselves as belonging there. That law and politics is not a natural disaster that happens to them, but something that they can have a voice in.”
With Low’s help, Burns hopes to grow the SVUDL partnership at YBSJ. “The more students I can get interested in debate, the more I can fulfill that goal—connecting to those students, and helping them envision themselves in these fields.”
New SVUDL Partner Schools and Organizations for the 2018-19 School Year
Part 4: KIPP San Jose Collegiate
By Amy McElroy
This year, Silicon Valley Urban Debate League (SVUDL) has partnered with KIPP San Jose Collegiate (KSJC) to create new opportunities for students. Across the Bay Area and the nation, KIPP schools are grounded in the idea of generating more choices for young people in underserved communities. KSJC invested in its students; the school maintains a 90 percent college matriculation rate and a comprehensive long-term outreach program. Through debate, SVUDL is helping KSJC students hone their skills and perspectives as they work toward their chosen career paths.
With significant background teaching at KIPP schools and coaching with Urban Debate League (UDL) programs, Kim Vo is distinctively qualified to guide the students in this partnership. After receiving a Master’s degree from Columbia University, Vo began her debate coaching career at the Atlanta Urban Debate League (AUDL) while teaching at a local school there. After two years, she began teaching at KIPP Atlanta Collegiate where she created a debate team. That year, the team won the urban city championship and Vo received the AUDL’s Coach of the Year Award.
Now at KSJC—where Vo teaches World History and AP World History and serves as the Chair of the History Department—her debate legacy follows her. “When I moved to San Jose three years ago,” she said, “two students who debated in middle school asked me to start a debate team at (KSJC) after hearing about my experiences in Atlanta.” She did so, and allowed them to acquire experience competing in debate. “This is their first year participating in SVUDL,” Vo said.
Through debate, students gain essential critical thinking skills, which KSJC places foremost in its curriculum. “We do a lot of Socratic Seminars and argumentative claims and writing” in the classroom, Vo explained. “Debate fits in well because it teaches students to research, understand all POVs and perspectives, make claims and find evidence to support their claim.”
Teaching KSJC students to debate inspires Vo. “The students I teach are wonderful people,” she said. “They are caring, passionate, and motivated individuals who recognize the oppression and injustices in the world.” She is grateful for the opportunity to coach students who “aspire to become active citizens by advocating for members of their community.”
Vo’s experience teaching debate at KSJC lines up with the school’s mission that its “graduates will use their education and life experiences to make positive change in their own lives, within the East San Jose community, and among our global society.”
Part of the school’s strategy for achieving this lifetime of change includes long-term outreach that extends through college and beyond. During high school, students receive focused guidance in all areas of college readiness through academic preparation, counseling, standardized test prep, college tours, application assistance, and even college savings through 529 accounts. Transitional support into college provides individual counseling to answer questions and provide emotional guidance. The KIPP Through College Program offers individual advising through on-campus visits, an alumni internship program, career development programs, and strong college partnerships to ensure not only college recruiting but retention, graduation, and entry into the working world.
This early pipeline approach resembles the SVUDL model for helping more underserved students succeed through high school, college, and find success in their chosen careers. SVUDL debate and mentor programs start at the high school level, with those mentors continuing to offer their guidance and support through college and law school.
According to Brandon Brown, a member of SVUDL’s Legal Advisory Committee and a partner at Kirkland & Ellis: “[O]ne of the best ways to ensure our law schools have a diverse population of exceptional candidates is to ensure that diverse high school students feel they can head in that direction. SVUDL does that by encouraging voices and empowering the disenfranchised.”
Vo has been a strong mentor for KSJC’s racially diverse population. In particular, she explained: “As a POC who represents 30% of my student population, I feel that more Asian students want to participate because we are breaking the stereotype that Asian students are quiet and are subservient.”
Overall, Vo sees the debate program blossoming at KSJC. “I love seeing my students find their voice and be passionate about their arguments.” She hopes the partnership with SVUDL will create more opportunities for KSJC students to debate. She finds “[w]hen students participate in the tournaments, they become more invested and want to debate more.” Vo hopes the debate program at KSJC will take on a life of its own that will survive long after she’s left the school someday.
Through this partnership with KSJC, SVUDL is proud to help promote one of the school’s highest values: options. At this Title I, urban school, Vo found “debate offers students choices—a choice to become more involved in school, a choice to build a community with their peers, a choice to sacrifice their weekends to participate in the tournaments, a choice to learn what skills they can learn from debate, a choice of what career or schools they want to attend.”
70 SVUDL Debaters participated in our first fall tournament on Saturday, October 13, 2018. Click this link to watch a video of the students arriving!
30 students participated in the Varsity rounds; top varsity honors went to the team of Jasleen Randhawa and Christina Vo from Silver Creek High School in San Jose and to top speaker Osvaldo Mendoza from KIPP San Jose Collegiate in San Jose.
40 students participated in the Novice rounds; top novice honors went to the team of Dania Fermin and Sofia Funk from Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School and Sofia Funk was also the top Novice speaker.
Here are all of the results from the tournament:
Varsity Policy 15 entries - 30 students total
KIPP San Jose Collegiate - 5
Oak Grove - 1
Silver Creek - 9
1st - Jasleen Randhawa and Christina Vo - Silver Creek
2nd- Daksh Jain and Pranav Singamsetty - Silver Creek
3rd-Osvaldo Mendoza and Celine De Villa - Kipp
4th- Avi Goel and Rutvik Gandhasri - Silver Creek
5th - Sandy Ouk and Tiffany Tran - Silver Creek
Varsity Top Speaker - Osvaldo Mendoza - KIPP San Jose Collegiate
Novice 21 entries - 40 students total
College Track - 1
Cristo Ray - 4
DCP - 3
Kipp - 4
Oak Grove - 1
Oxford Day -2
Yerba Buena - 6
1st - Dania Fermin and Sofia Funk - Cristo Rey
2nd - Moises Ron-Lopez and Andre Pham - KIPP San Jose Collegiate
3rd - Vanessa Gudino and Mateo Diaz - Cristo Rey
4th - Zariah Best and Kastella Nguyen - Yerba Buena
5th - Paulina Guiterrez Carmona & Jules Thomas - College Track
Novice Top Speaker - Sofia Funk - Cristo Rey
SVUDL wishes to thank Santa Clara University (SCU) for hosting us and our judges for the event (*=SVUDL alumnus, **=SVUDL board member):