2017 Summer Debate Academy

Fake news vs. independent journalism. Cyber-bullying vs. online community building: Philly youth debate pros and cons of social networking sites

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New friends, 7th grader Shakia of Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter Schools, and 8th grader Raquel of Maratime Academy Charter School prepare for cross fire round vs. opponents!

On Friday, August 4th, students participating in ASAP’s Summer Debate Academy competed in a two round tournament on the following topic, “Resolved: On balance, social media networking sites have a positive impact on the United States.”  But this was not their first go at the topic.

Over the course of two weeks, 40 Philadelphia youth, from 25 schools in Philadelphia, had been steadily crafting pro and con arguments on the growing influence social media has on public discourse, government policy and international relations. The catch, is that a huge percentage of this year’s campers were debate novices, perhaps only used to arguing over pizza toppings without respective restraints, instead of climate change and the Electoral College.

The structure of the camp was to divide students into four groups, each with a teacher and a TA. During the first week, groups learned the basics of debate through instruction and games, while discussing the social media topic with their teachers, a topic so relevant to the life of a millennial. Groups were quoted, “I’m not sure I can even imagine a world without social media. It doesn’t exist.”

Then, in the second week, students were placed in pairs and began to research the social media topic using evidence packets and Microsoft tablets provided by ASAP.  From there, the pairs wrote pro and con speeches and practiced for the upcoming tournament.


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Veteran 9th grader, Maliek of Paul Robeson HS and 8th grader, Berekt, of Labroatory Charter School fight for their contentions! 

The academy is unique, in that students with experience often work with partners who are still learning debate techniques and strategies, and are almost always from different schools from throughout the city. Although apprehensive at first, students unanimously agreed that the most important part of the experience was the friends that they made.

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New to debate, 9th grader Mateo, of Esperanza Academy Charter School and 8th grader Sanaiah of Maritime Academy Charter School question the validity of their opponent's argument   

Correction. The family they gained.

In addition to reading, writing and constructing arguments, students were also granted a variety of opportunities to further explore and interact with content related to the final tournament, such as speaking to education reporter, Avi Wolfman-Arent and Assistant Vice President of News, John Mussoni, of WHYY and News Reporter, Dave Kinchen of Fox 29 News, about the effects of social media on journalism and the spread of fake news.

Overall, Avi and John offered an interactive presentation where they provided expertise on busting “bogus” sources, and recognizing credible information in a public sphere. John even distributed copies of the National Enquirer to show how “fake news” existed even before the internet. Then, Dave of Fox 29, engaged the kids on topics about “clickbait” and the fast pace nature of TV news. All three reporters took questions from the group, and the students gained perspective on the topic of their upcoming tournament. Avi even returned on the final day of the camp to interview students about their competitions. Click here to read more!



[From left to right]: Avi-Wolfman and John Mussoni of WHYY and Dave Kinchen of Fox 29 

Thanks to ASAP Debate Partners throughout the city, the students were also able to attend recently open and highly acclaimed Museum of the American Revolution in Old City, on Friday, July 28th.  ASAP debaters enjoyed a guided tour, engaged with Revolutionary War experts, and paid particular attention to debates among colonists and Native Americans about the merits of loyalty to the Crown and independence.



ASAP Summer Debate Academy at both Constitution Center and American Revolution Museum 

The final stop was the Constitution Center on Independence Mall on August 1st! The museum’s main exhibit and famous Freedom Rising performance provided our students with various perspectives on the Constitution’s first amendment. The protection of free speech proved to be an important discussion topic when considering the impact of social media in the United States. While con cases could use the spread of “fake news” on social media as evidence, pro cases could claim that any information – even disinformation – is protected by the first amendment.

As the quick two weeks came to a close, students were ready for the ultimate test: debating against their peers. It was a chance to take all of the information gained throughout the week, in addition to the hands-on field trips provided, to try and win against their opponents. Ultimately, the results were as follows:

Top teams (receiving trophies)

  • 1st: Joseph (8th grade) & Jahmeer (8th)
  • 2nd: Karlysa (10th) & Amirah (8th)
  • 3rd: Raihannah (9th) & Priya (9th)


Top speakers (receiving medals)

  • Joseph, 8th [#1 speaker]
  • Jahmeer, 8th
  • Dejah , 8th
  • Karlysa, 8th
  • Priya, 8th


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Coach Natacha and TA Jada, a previous Girls' High debate alum, currently attending Temple University standing proud with their kids! 

ASAP would like to thank the Hamilton Family Foundation, Thomas Skelton Harrison Foundation, Wells Fargo, the Lenfest Foundation and the School District of Philadelphia for their support. In addition, ASAP is grateful for the Museum of the American Revolution and the National Constitution Center for providing hands-on experiences for our Philadelphia youth. Finally, we could not do it without our wonderful volunteer judges, teachers and TA's who dedicated two weeks of their summer, not only educating our youth on debate, but providing a fun and safe environment for the kids this summer.

As always, we look forward to next year!



This article was written and edited by ASAP Debate Coordinator, RJ Tischler and Communications & Development Coordinator, Victoria Bakey

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