New SVUDL Partner Schools and Organizations Part 4: KIPP San Jose Collegiate

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.”