Saturday, Sunday: Debate tournament for third-graders at Oak Knoll School


A debate tournament featuring more than 150 students from Menlo Park's Oak Knoll and Atherton's Encinal schools will take place Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 24-25, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Oak Knoll School, 1895 Oak Knoll Lane.

Hillview Middle School's debate team will help run the tournament. The event is part of a year-long, once-a-week program for third-graders at the two schools, designed to teach students the skills and techniques needed for a debate tournament.

The program helps students get "more engaged in their learning," said Brier Buchalter, called "Coach Brier" by his students.

The program, in its second year, has expanded to Hillview Middle School. More schools and districts are joining next year, Mr. Buchalter said.

Speech and debate helps students learn to communicate clearly and effectively, and creatively to solve problems," Mr. Buchalter said. Students have only 15 to 20 minutes of preparation time to develop their arguments for each debate round, with each round on a new topic students are debating for the first time.

"The brave students who debated in front of their class, now can't wait to do it again," he said. The program also has "a remarkable effect on students who were once scared or shy to speak in front of others."

While the program works well with high-performing students looking for a challenge, "we have seen amazing results from students with selective mutism, autism spectrum, stagefright and ESL learners, as well as many other challenges," he said.

The Menlo Park-Atherton Education Foundation/PTO helps to fund the program.

"This weekend will be a wonderful showcase, for all the hard work the students have put in over the last several months," Mr. Buchalter said.

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