New SVUDL Partner Schools and Programs Part 6: Downtown College Prep El Primero High School San Jose

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!”