- This is Poly
Competing virtually has not been a problem for Cait Bliss, the new adjunct Speech and Debate faculty member, and Middle and Upper School students, who have participated in Competitive Speech events with great success this fall.
“Competitive Speech is part of the Debate program, which currently is under the umbrella of Performing Arts,” explained Dan Doughty, Chair of the Performing Arts Department.
“While in-person competitions develop a student’s stage-presence, the virtual stage develops their camera-presence—a particularly useful skill in the remote-learning, -hiring, and -working era.”
“Speech is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the virtual stage,” Bliss said. “While in-person competitions develop a student’s stage-presence, the virtual stage develops their camera-presence—a particularly useful skill in the remote-learning, -hiring, and -working era. We have developed our on-camera presentation with a focus on sound, lighting, background, and camera technique. Many students have found the virtual setting to be less intimidating than in-person competition; as a result, students have exhibited newfound confidence in their performances.”
“Speech competitions host synchronous and asynchronous events,” Bliss explained. “The asynchronous opportunities provide the flexibility for students to record performances in their own time, and it allows students to select the best of multiple ‘takes.’ The synchronous events give students an opportunity to see other competitors work, which inspires and influences the type of work they seek to do. Co-captain of Congressional Debate, Jasmine Kaur ’22, recently observed that the virtual space feels more equitable.”
Bliss said that in early November, “Poly Speech students competed at the NYC-Long Island Interleague tournament. Marcos Perez ’23 and Kaur were elected to serve as presiding officers in preliminary rounds, and both advanced to the Super Session in Congressional Debate. Kaur ranked twelfth overall. Several Poly students competed for the very first time, including Ezekiel Wise ’24, Ava Lily Grant ’23, and Antony Pfaffle ’23. Eyton Ng ’24 provided additional research assistance to the team. Poly students delivered speeches on a variety of pressing issues, including Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, coronavirus relief, dam removals, and private military contractors. Thanks to their combined successes, Poly was awarded fifth place sweepstakes overall, the first speech sweepstakes Poly has earned in four years.”
Bliss added, “Poly Speech students also competed in performance events at the National Speech & Debate Association Springboard Tournament. Keelin Walshe ’23 and Sophie Stamicar ’23 made their debuts in Dramatic Interpretation. Walshe performed her interpretation of Molly Sweeney by Brian Friel. Stamicar performed her interpretation of The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. And Isabella Donovan ’24 competed in Program Oral Interpretation, performing “All Work and No Pay,” a collection of writings that highlight stay-at-home parents’ vital contributions to society and the economy. This was a banner weekend for Poly Speech, and we look forward to future growth and success.”
“The world of speech is quite diverse with 10 different events ranging from original oratory (orators/speakers) to dramatic performance (performers/actors) to congressional debate (debaters/representatives) so “speechies” is an umbrella term that is used more by the adults than the students.”
In October, Poly Speech students competed virtually at Yale University and Bronx High School of Science. Kaur advanced to quarterfinals at Yale and to semifinals at Bronx. Kaur and Perez were elected to serve as presiding officers at Bronx. Donovan competed in Program Oral Interpretation at Yale and Bronx.
Bliss says her process of working with students in Competitive Speech includes first, discovery, which begins with a conversation to learn about a student’s cares and desires, “what kind of message they want to tell the world.” Next she determines what speech event best suits their goals. Bliss then reads books, plays, short stories, poetry, and other literature and “selects excerpts that best support their message.” After she selects the material, “I work with students to shape the text, fit it to competition parameters, build the dramatic arc of the piece, and develop their unique voice and style. All practices and sessions are virtual, synchronous primarily, asynchronous as needed.”
“I do Congressional Debate and honestly I enjoy every single aspect of it,” said Kaur, “From prepping before a round and diving deep into topics to actually being in a round and debating—it’s a rush!” She continued, “Congress has made me into a much better student and a better person overall as it taught me how to formulate arguments, conduct deep research, and be a better writer. It also became an outlet for me to grow as a person and figure out what my interests are and how to use my voice to advocate for the things I believe in.”
“The highlight of my debate career,” Kaur said, “was actually a recent tournament called Interleague in which for the first time we had many new recruits debating alongside us. The goal since I have joined Congress was to expand our team and having multiple people debate alongside was amazing. Also, to see the dedication that these new recruits brought to the table was inspiring and makes me hopeful for the future. For example, the day before the tournament we had a six-hour practice in which everyone was engaging and contributing to each other.”
In mid November, Perez and Kaur competed in Congressional Debate at a national tournament, Villiger at St. Joseph’s University. “They both were elected as presiding officers in their preliminary rounds,” bliss said. “Jasmine advanced to finals, her first time making it to the finals session at a national tournament.”
“It was certainly a great experience,” Kaur said. “When I found out, I was ecstatic and relished in the moment that all the hard work that my team and I had put in paid off.”
“I have always been really interested in politics and taking the role of a representative or a senator brings great insight as to how our democratic process actually works.”
“What makes Congress stand out,” said Perez, “is how it emulates the real-life United States Congress. I have always been really interested in politics and taking the role of a representative or a senator brings great insight as to how our democratic process actually works. I really enjoy debating those bills and resolutions, those topics, that impact people the most and being able to humanize those debates always feels great at the end of the day.”
“A highlight of my Congressional career,” Perez said, “was my first ‘break.’ ‘Breaking’ is debate lingo for when a competitor of any event continues on to eliminatory rounds, you don’t tend to hear of ninth graders reaching finals rounds at any form of national tournament so when I did a few months back, it was really fun and reassuring.”
Donovan has been part of Poly Speech for four years, having competed in Middle School. “The highlight of my Poly speech career was my first time participating in the middle school national championships in Florida when I was a sixth grader,” recalled Donovan. “It was so exciting to meet and compete against thousands of other students from all around the United States, many of whom were much older than I was.”
“I compete in the Program Oral Interpretation (POI) category” continued Donovan, “which is a combination of acting, poetry/prose, and persuasive speaking. I enjoy competing in this category because I have a broad range of different pieces to choose from, which I then mix together into the same performance. In a recent piece, I got to perform drama from A Doll’s House, comedy from the TV show, The Honeymooners, and serious prose about feminism and gender roles in society from “ The Bell Jar.” I find that this makes each performance of mine unique in its own way, which holds my interest throughout the long season.”
“Being part of the speech team has given me skills and confidence to excel in all of these areas, and has definitely made me a better overall student.”
“Public speaking is a huge part of the Poly Prep curriculum,” said Donovan. “Every year, Poly students are required to make oral presentations in almost all of our classes, as well as video performances and other similar projects. This is in addition to the annual Bearns competition and Rienzi World Languages competition. Being part of the speech team has given me skills and confidence to excel in all of these areas, and has definitely made me a better overall student.”
Eyton Ng said he joined Poly Speech because he was interested in debate, but had no real idea what it really was. “I also figured that it would be quite beneficial in growing more self-confidence as well as social skills for the near future,” he said.
“Competitive Speech has taught me to be a better student by forcing me to maximize the time I spend to its fullest capacity.”
“Competitive Speech has taught me to be a better student by forcing me to maximize the time I spend to its fullest capacity,” Ng said. “Preparation for debate can take a pretty long time, so I had to spend my time carefully to make sure that my work in debate would not interfere with my work from school.
Ng would encourage other students to join Poly Speech. “Debating can be quite intimidating in the beginning, as it was for me,” he said, “but once you get hold of how things work, you’ll be proud of your decision to join.” He added, “In my Competitive Speech career, I look forward to hopefully winning the NSDA Congress final, developing my speaking skills, and making memories that will last forever!”