Eagles Judge Middle School ASAP Debate Tournament

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Philadelphia Eagles' defensive end, Aziz Shittu, joined ASAP as a celebrity judge at December's middle school debate tournament

On Monday, December 12th, ASAP Debate held the largest middle school debate tournament in its history during which students passionately presented pro and con arguments on whether direct popular vote should replace the Electoral College. The event, hosted at J.R. Masterman School, featured 124 students from 11 different schools competing across three rounds.


Prior to the first round, youth crowded the Masterman cafeteria as they rehearsed their opening presentations.  When asked, a young middle schooler cheered over the excitement, “I do debate because I’m gonna be Mayor.” His classmate chuckled in response stating, “well watch out, because I’m going to be president.” Without question, the outcome of the recent presidential election added relevance and urgency to many of the students’ arguments.  “My voice isn’t being heard…Our voices aren’t being heard,” contested middle school debate student, Akayla Brown of Overbrook Educational Center, in favor of direct popular vote. However, as with all debates, students must be prepared to defend both sides of the argument and develop an appreciation for perspectives other than their own.


Special guest, Philadelphia Eagles’ Aziz Shittu, joined ASAP Debate for one of the tournament’s championship rounds. During the NFL season, Monday is typically reserved as a day off for the team. However, many Eagles players, such as Shittu, use this chance to enhance their community through the Eagles Care Community Monday Initiative, by teaming up with local non-profit charities to make a lasting impact on the community. Eagles’ defensive end Aziz faced the daunting task of judging middle school debaters Jewel Austin & Jasmine Jackson of Overbrook Educational Center and Akayla Brown & Eman Ghanem of Laboratory Charter School on replacing the Electoral College. Shittu was in the hot seat.

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 Other participating schools included Masterman, Mastery Charter School Hardy Williams, Overbrook Educational Center, Boys’ Latin Charter School, Friends Select, Young Scholars Charter School, Greenfield Elementary School, Hamilton Elementary School, Freire Charter School, the Laboratory Charter School, and Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School. Principal Brown of J.R. Mastermen School, kicked off the event, reminding the students, supporting faculty and volunteer judges that, “We must always remember that first and foremost we will have fun today.” Students cheered in excitement as they shuffled with their teammates through Mastermen hallways, for the first round…among them, many future leaders. 

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Overall, Masterman placed first, with 7th graders Keziah Miller and José DeSilva named as the top debaters on their team, while an additional 5 top speakers were recognized in a special feature in the Philadelphia Public School Notebook

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Photo credit: Rachel Utain-Evans
Finally, ASAP’s special guest, Aziz Shittu, addressed the students during the award ceremony, encouraging the youth to pursue the activities that they love, work hard at it, put the time in and most importantly, stick to it. His attitude of commitment and dedication to nurturing young talents, showcased on stage as he eloquently spoke to the middle schoolers about their futures.

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Photo credit: Rachel Utain-Evans
While many youth left their contentions and resolutions behind as the tournament concluded, no student left without the notion of remembering to have fun doing what they love.

ASAP thanks Principal Brown, Mr. Gilligan and the Masterman Debate team for providing a welcoming environment for ASAP Debate’s record-setting number of middle school debaters. In addition, ASAP thanks Eagles Care Community for supporting ASAP— especially the Eagles Charitable Foundation and Aziz Shittu – for their steadfast support of youth in Philadelphia.
When students return in January 2017, they will explore the critical facts in opinions of another hot topic: comprehensive immigration reform.


This article was written by ASAP/ After School Activities Partnerships Communications & Development Coordinator, Victoria Bakey 

Hometown Huddle: ASAP kicks of Chess and Scrabble League Seasons

"After school is as important to what happens during school,” stated Eagles punter, Donnie Jones. As the Philadelphia youth competitors and coaches gathered round, Jones expressed the equal importance of After School time and on-site classroom learning; a perfect game-day, rousing speech to kick off chess and Scrabble league seasons, on Monday, October 24th after an Eagles win against the Vikings.

In conjunction with the NFL’s 18th annual Hometown Huddle league-wide day of service, the Philadelphia Eagles and United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey (UWGPSNJ) joined ASAP/After School Activities Partnerships in the high school chess league and Scrabble Scholastic league kick off.  The Philadelphia Eagles have been a longtime supporter of ASAP chess. However, this year, ASAP Scrabble teamed up with the Eagles Care Community to host the inaugural Scholastic Scrabble League kick off. Hosted at the School District of Philadelphia, the event comprised of over 150 chess competitors and 45 Scrabble players from throughout the city.

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Philadelphia Eagles- Julie Bacanskas

During the NFL season, Monday is typically reserved as a day off for the team. Many Eagles players, such as Donnie Jones and Caleb Sturgis, however, use this opportunity to enhance the quality of life for residents in the Delaware Valley through the Eagles Care Community Monday initiative. Every week during the season, the Eagles team up with local non-profit charities on a variety of activities that aim to make a lasting impact on the community. These strategic partnerships do this by lifting spirits at local hospitals, strengthening neighborhoods, educating youth on healthy eating and physical fitness, promoting eco-friendly methods and making generous donations. This particular Monday, Jones and Sturgis were put to the test against ASAP chess and Scrabble participants, in addition to some veteran coaches…Johnny Scrabble and Matt Hopkins.

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While Donnie Jones questioned his tiles across from Johnny Scrabble, Eagles kicker Caleb Sturgis began a chess match against a student from the Carver High School team. Friendly smiles were exchanged, as competition eluded.

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Philadelphia Eagles- Julie Bacanskas

This was no typical third down or possible 2 point conversion at the Linc. As double word bonuses were gained, pawns were taken. Jones quickly realized the disadvantage of having only vowels on his Scrabble rack, while Strugis learned the value of home-field advantaged; the School district of Philadelphia is our Philly Youth’s turf.

"We are proud to have District students participate in ASAP's 2016 Philadelphia Scholastic Chess League and the new Philadelphia Scholastic Scrabble League, " states Dr. Hite, Philadelphia School District Superintendent. "Not only do these activities help improve students' analytical skills, memory, and decision-making abilities, but they also provide students the opportunity to meet children from other neighborhoods and schools. I'd like to thank ASAP, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey for supporting this important effort."



Jones and Sturgis, in addition to volunteers from #projectNEXT and United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, were essential in representing the over-all message ASAP/ After School Activities Partnerships wanted to portray during this joint event; Hard work, dedication, passion and willingness to learn from one another. ASAP states that after school is not just a time kids get to be themselves, but a time they get to BECOME themselves. Events such as the league kick off for both initiatives chess and Scrabble are a time Philadelphia youth get to BECOME themselves through enrichment activities that garner their specific interest. There is something for everyone.

As matches were concluded and flip clocks were switched off, ASAP staff, United Way volunteers and the Eagles Care community stood back and watched the comradery amongst the leagues. High fives were exchanged among our young scrabble players and handshakes given to conclude a match. We again were reminded by Jones’ words, "How you respond to adversity will make you a better person." Our kids responded with dignity, a few giggles and lessons in the game they had not known prior. Although two very different games, Philadelphia youth from both initiatives left with a similar sentiment; a fun and challenging day of BEING themselves.


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Thank you again to the School District of Philadelphia for providing a space for our kids to BE themselves in a healthy, encouraging and competitive environment, in addition to United Way volunteers and #projectNEXT who took the time to invest in our kids, as they build character and skills relevant to advance in their well-rounded, academic futures and positive relationships with their peers. In addition, we would like to thank Eagles Care Community & United Way for honoring ASAP for the 18th Annual Hometown Huddle grant. ASAP is also grateful for the Eagles Care Community and Philadelphia Eagles who came out to support our kids; as Jones and Sturgis know, two-a-days on the practice field are not worth much without the game day arena to showcase those skills. 

IMG 7015Philadelphia Eagles- Julie Bacanskas

This article was written by ASAP/ After School Activities Partnerships Communitions & Development Coordinator, Victoria Bakey 

ASAP's 3rd Annual Summer Debate Academy

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8 of the 43 Summer Debate Academy Students.  Starting from top-left: Anthony, Jahmeer, Maliek, Sydney, Tatyana, Ciani, Yari, and Baahij

Every kid is unique, but most have at least one thing in common: they like to argue!  For kids in Philadelphia that really love to argue, ASAP Debate offers a unique opportunity to practice speaking in public and defending their opinions.

The 3rd annual ASAP Summer Debate Academy took place from Monday, July 25th to Friday August 5th at George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science. Over the course of 10 five-hour days, the Academy engaged 43 students (grades 7-12) from all around the city.  They represented twenty-nine different traditional public, public charter and independent schools.  Four coaches from the city’s top middle and high school debate clubs in the city served as the camp’s lead instructors, and they were supported by four teaching assistants – all recent alumni of ASAP’s Philadelphia Scholastic Debate League (PSDL).  Together, our tremendous instructors and teaching assistants taught the students the necessary skills and structure of Public Forum Debate. 

By the end of the two weeks, I was able to meet all of the students and had the opportunity to interview eight of them individually.  Many, I found, were drawn to debate by their love of argument.

Eighth grader Maliek commented, “I always have loose debates, but never, like, constructed.”  The “constructed” form of debate was exactly what Maliek intended to learn at the Academy.  Outside of instruction, he had a space to exhibit his knack for argument; during instruction, he was developing his debate techniques and etiquette: “It’s formal, so I can’t jump in and butt anybody out, so I learned to just wait my turn.” 

The other students could certainly relate to Maliek’s affinity for argument.  Seventh grader Jahmeer recalled that “at my school, they have clubs, and there was a debate club that everyone said I would be good for, because I like to argue.  So I tried out, and I liked it.”  Eighth grader Tatyana also said, “I like to argue,” and added that, “debate helps me professionally argue.”

Eighth grader Sydney was pleased with the structure of Public Forum Debate.  She said, “I like it.  It’s a new experience.  I didn’t think that debate would be this way.  I thought, you know, somebody would give you an issue, and y’all argue about it.  I didn’t know there was a pro and a con side and that there were speeches involved.  I didn’t know you had to have actual facts.  It was nice to learn something new… it’s more active.  It requires more work.”

One of the main ways that students learn to formally argue is by developing their notetaking skills – what debaters call “flowing.”  Our teachers led instruction through the basics of flowing, and then the teaching assistants performed a demonstration debate.  The students practiced their flowing during the demo and discussed what the exercise had taught them.  Many students, like 8th grader Ciani, saw the benefits of learning better notetaking skills: “Now I know how to organize.  If I’m writing an essay, I can organize it a certain way – like how a debate speech would go.”  The students were well aware that these skills would benefit them beyond debate competitions.

After covering flowing technique, the students were introduced to the Summer Debate Academy’s main topic: whether or not the system of presidential primary elections is contrary to American democratic values. Students began preparing both pro and con responses.  At the end of the two weeks, the camp would host a tournament on the topic.

ASAP organized three informative field trips to help the students learn more about the primary electoral process and the various definitions of American democratic values.  The camp ran concurrent to the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, so ASAP arranged to bring the students to the DNC Women’s Caucus and Hillary Clinton’s rally at Temple University.  Campers had exposure to not only supporters of the DNC but also protestors of the American primary system, many of whom were expressing opinions campers would later feature in their pro-side contentions.  For historical background on American elections, the students also visited the National Constitution Center.  The visit included tours of the main and special exhibits, as well as a viewing of Freedom Rising, the multi-media performance exploring the definition of freedom throughout American history.

For many campers, the field trips added another exciting dimension to the Academy and provided real world context to their study of the primary process.  Ninth grader Yari commented: “The field trips I thought were amazing.  To start off with going to the DNC – just being there was an amazing experience.  It helps us students who don’t have the chance to do that on our own or with our families.  It’s given us the chance to see the outside world and how the election really is.  It was amazing.”  She also noted how fun and educational the exhibits at the Constitution Center were: “We played trivia games, we participated in many cool activities, we watched Freedom Rising, which opened up my mind a bit more about our history and how it has progressed over the years.  I think the field trips have been really helpful.”

Throughout the second week, instructors helped the students prepare for the camp’s tournament on the primary election topic.  This began with pairing the students based on complementary debating styles, personalities, and skill levels.  Each pair researched independently – with occasional guidance from instructors – to collect evidence and develop pro and con arguments.  On the final two days of camp, the pairs competed in a tournament.

The Academy’s culminating tournament helped the students see the progress they had made over the previous eight days.  Even those who were confident debaters prior to the camp, like seventh grader Baahij Arthur, recognized their own improvement: “I’m good at communicating, but I’m learning more communicating skills, social skills – learning how to project my voice and to have good posture when I’m standing or sitting, how to speak correctly, and to just be yourself when you’re doing debate.”

Sydney commented that “[debate] definitely develops public speaking skills, because you have to present to the judges your speeches, and it also teaches you how to compromise with people.”  Competing in pairs allowed the students to develop their teamwork skills.

By the end of the tournament, students were feeling confident and ready to compete again.  Many were eager to begin debating in the next season of the Philadelphia Scholastic Debate League, including Yari: “Debate helps in a lot of ways: raising self-confidence; learning how to think critically; thinking faster on your feet…With this Debate Academy, I’ve learned to not stutter as much, I’ve felt better, I’ve felt more prepared for the upcoming debate year.”  For those just starting debate, like eighth grader Anthony, the new season meant a chance to try out debate at their school’s club.  More experienced debaters, like Yari and several others, established themselves at the Academy as emerging leaders of their debate teams.  A few, like Maliek, were even inspired to start brand new ASAP Debate clubs at their schools!

To kick off this season of the Philadelphia Scholastic Debate League, ASAP will be hosting a Demonstration Debate on October 26th, from 3:30-4:45pm, at Central High School.  The city’s top high school debaters will put their skills on display and examine the topic of standardized testing.  We hope to see you there!


This article was written by ASAP/ After school Activities Partnerships' Strategic Impact Coordinator, RJ Tischler

2016 Debate Demonstration

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On Wednesday, October 26, top high school debaters will present a topic from the previous debate season, to show new debaters the layout of a Public Forum Debate round. The demonstration will be located at Central High School, 1700 W. Olney Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19141, at 3:30 PM. The resolution is, "On balance, standardized testing is beneficial to K-12 education in the United States." 

After the match, veteran coaches and judges will give the group some tips on what was done well and what could be improved. Middle and high school debate teams are welcome to attend, in addition to families and faculty. ASAP Debate is one of the largest urban debate leagues in the country; this year hundreds of students embraced the opportunity and chose to spend their after school hours preparing arguments for debate competition. Debate clubs extend beyond the confines of a classroom, ultimately shaping and preparing youth to be tomorrow's generation of informed leaders.

For more information on this event, or to register, please contact Sara Morningstar at 215-545-2727 ext. 10.

2016 ASAP Directory Release

2016 ASAP Directory Release

Wednesday, September 14, 2016, ASAP & The Philadelphia Daily News, are releasing the 2016-17 Directory of Philadelphia after school programs. ASAP staff and volunteers will be distributing free copies of the directory at 15th & Market St., at 8:00 A.M.

After school is not just a time when kids get to BE themselves – it's a time they get to BECOME themselves through enriching experiences that develop important skills, foster positive relationships and broaden horizons. This year's ASAP Directory features more than 1,000 site listings and almost every activity imaginable to keep kids safe and engaged after school.

 Following the release of the 2016 ASAP Directory in the Philadelphia Daily News, additional copies will be sent to all city schools, libraries, recreation centers and offices of elected officials. We encourage all readers to share the ASAP Directory with parents, caregivers and youth workers so that together we can create a safer, healthier and smarter city for our children, one after school program at a time.

Thanks to a partnership with the Mayor's Commission on Literacy, city residents without home internet access can find a shortcut to the ASAP Directory on the desktop of computers at KEYSPOT locations throughout the city.

In addition, with the support of ASAP's friends and partners, the Philadelphia Daily News, Philadelphia Media Network, Citizens Bank, NBCUniversal, Lenfest Foundation, the Horner Foundation and the City of Philadelphia's Department of Human Services, the Directory gets bigger and more useful each year.

For More Information:
Please Contact Paul Carroll
  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 215-545-2727 ext. 11

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After School Activities Partnerships
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P: 215.545.2727 | F: 215. 545.3054
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