Listening and evolving

SVUDL has never shied away from bold moves, and we are poised to undertake an evolution that may change the landscape of urban debate in the United States- an evolution grounded in feedback received from our partners. 

From day one, SVUDL has emphasized research. That's probably no surprise, considering our mission. We regularly turn to quantitative studies led by Dr. Briana Mezuk of the University of Michigan and peer-reviewed articles to make the case for urban debate. SVUDL owes its very existence to qualitative research conducted with students, teachers, and administrators who expressed demand for an urban debate program in Silicon Valley Title I high schools. 

This program year, SVUDL began its transition from startup mode to strategic growth. To assure youth stayed at the center of this change, we took time for a comprehensive needs assessment of current partners. A special thank you to our partners at Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund (SV2), who did so much to make that research possible, and our deepest appreciation to the school partners who gave their time to help guide SVUDL’s development.

We listened closely to what our partners had to say. They conveyed consistent messages about SVUDL's strengths: the powerful individual benefits of the program, particularly confidence, critical thinking, and leadership skills; SVUDL’s style of commitment and communication; and the inspirational presence of program staff and the strong personal relationships they build with students and coaches.

They also conveyed consistent messages about challenge areas: they need more resources and guidance to reach students who are most in-need; they see a need for large-scale work on curriculum, events, and culture to expand SVUDL's impact to all of their students; and they all asked for more support in implementation.  

It is affirming to have program strengths recognized, but SVUDL didn't stop with celebrating what we've done well. We analyzed the challenge areas and brainstormed ways to address them. The solution we settled on is a radical change. 

This summer, SVUDL will become the first UDL in the country to employ Head Coaches, Debate Ambassadors, and Debate Specialists. Head Coaches will build and implement a shared vision among youth, teachers, administrators, volunteers, and stakeholders at each school. Teachers at partner schools will serve as Assistant Coaches, acting as local leadership at a school and further building capacity to use debate in the classroom. SVUDL Interns, UDL Alumni, and other experienced debaters will serve as Debate Ambassadors and Specialists, attending and further enriching practices. These young people will earn valuable employment experience while serving as inspirational role models and technical experts for current participants. 

This major investment in staffing and infrastructure - undertaken as a direct result of needs voiced by our partners and the students at the center of our work - will increase student skills, help teacher-coaches build capacity, advance recruitment and retention and exponentially increase our impact. We anticipate even higher student numbers and stronger outcomes in the 2017-18 program year as this innovation takes root!