Part 3: Summit Public Schools, Rainier Campus, San Jose with Summit Head Debate Coach Aileen George and SVUDL Coach Liaison and Head Coach Jimi Morales By Amy McElroy
One of Silicon Valley Urban Debate League’s (SVUDL’s) seven new partner schools, Summit Rainier, was founded in 2011 by a group of parents from East San Jose seeking a high quality education for their students. Together, SVUDL and Rainier will continue to deliver on the school’s commitment to outstanding academic achievement and college prep in this diverse environment. SVUDL will help create even more opportunities for students at Rainier—which already ranks in the top 20 schools in Santa Clara County, with a proud tradition of admitting 100 percent of its students to four year colleges.
Aileen George, the school’s new Dean of Instruction and Culture, said, “[W]e offer a wide variety of clubs to address our diverse population and their interests.” George, who also serves as Head Debate Coach, explained: “Here at Rainier, debate is an after-school activity” and said “coaching debate is the happiest part of my experience as an educator.” Deeply invested in coaching, she added, “As a debate coach for the last 7 years, it has meant so much to me to see the impact this activity has on students.”
Like other coaches at SVUDL, over time George has witnessed profound changes occur for debaters: “I've watched children come out of their shells, become more confident, and transform over the course of a debate season. I've seen students cry during their first practice from nerves grow to become city-wide champions. I've seen students with speech impediments who struggled socially become the most dynamic and popular kid on the competition circuit.”
A similar kind of transformation happened for Rainier’s SVUDL coach liaison Jimi Morales. Morales learned the value of debate when it helped him find purpose in high school and overcome a troubling stammer. He placed in the top 21 in the National Forensics League (NFL) Nationals and later received the Williams/Sloane Collin Passionate Public Speaking Prize for Social Justice, while on full scholarship as a first-generation college student at Williams College. Since that time, Morales has coached debate in summer programs, high schools, and as a private instructor. At Rainier, he’s now thriving in a role that allows him to help debaters with backgrounds similar to his own.
Both Morales and George work with students to improve critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills—all of which are fundamental to Rainier’s project-based learning curriculum. George said her participation as a student debater taught her these skills, directly affecting the trajectory of her career: “Debate gave me presentation skills that helped me flourish as a teacher, interviewer, workshop leader, and professional.”
Another aspect of Rainier’s curriculum focuses on imitating real-world experiences in work-like settings. SVUDL’s debate program provides students the opportunity to argue topical, real-world issues in moot court settings—sometimes in front of actual judges.
The SVUDL debate model provides the type of mentors Rainier values so highly, to guide and support students as they achieve their college and career goals. In line with the school’s goals, debate will help many of its curious students find the type of passion that drives them to a successful and fulfilling life.
George said, “Debate has played a huge role in my life and I believe, without any doubts, that it was the extra-curricular that impacted my success in adulthood the most.” In high school, she became a competitive debate champion and qualified for nationals. Later, she became a member of the DC Urban Debate League, coached high school debate, and won the league’s Coach of the Year award in 2016.
George’s experience with diverse populations and Morales’ own background and history as a coach make them the right choice to lead the partnership between Rainier and SVUDL. George comes to this position ready to teach students “with a wide range of abilities while still helping everyone find success in their own way.”
“I love working with students who are in an environment that allows students to be unapologetically themselves. Here at Rainier, we strive to create a culture that allows students to feel safe and supported,” George explained. “As a result, my new debate team, even in its infancy, is showing these values.” She said the students “are enthusiastic to debate about immigration and have been extremely supportive of each other in having thoughtful discussions.”
According to George, “SVUDL, like many UDLs, was created as a space for students in local public schools to gain competitive skills and diverse experiences,” She envisions “this partnership will lead to experiences for students that builds them up and gives them a sense of success and commitment that helps them as young adults.”