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.”