An Inside Look of the Duval Urban Debate League, Part II

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Continuing from Part I: after reflecting on the impact Forensics has had on my life, and the benefits of Urban Debate brought to kids who otherwise would not know of Forensics, I get an inside perspective of The Duval Urban Debate League.

I learned of the Duval Urban Debate League while on The Forensics Community’s Twitter page (@ForensicsFriend).  The DUDL (follow them @greatdebaters) had posted a story about a recent middle school tournament they had held and I retweeted.  What followed was an e-mail correspondence with Jermyn Shannon El of the DUDL.  Like most, I did not know much about Urban Debate.  However, I wanted to - particularly about a league so fresh and helpful to their community.  So I asked Jermyn a few questions about Urban Debate and the DUDL.  I hope you, the reader, finds his responses as enlightening as I did.

Lisa: Is the DUDL a member of the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL)?  I am kind of making the assumption here that Urban Debate leagues across the country are all unified under that National group…

Jermyn: Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to publicize the Duval UDL. During our first inaugural year, our administrative staff, selected to organically grow the League to ensure DUDL met the local and state requirements academically and socially based on student/school/and district needs. We anticipate to become a member of the NAUDL next year. All urban debate leagues are not necessarily a part of the NAUDL, particularly in the south where policy debate is practically void at the secondary and post secondary level.  [Editor Note: Policy Debate is the main type of Debate practiced by the NAUDL, thus why the NAUDL is not a major factor of Southern Debate.]

Lisa: Is the DUDL strictly for middle schools?  If so, does it feed into a high school Urban Debate program?  And what is the success rate of middle schoolers who debate sticking with it in HS?

Jermyn: DUDL started out at the Middle School level (6-8) to meet the challenges most students face to stay in school during the transition period from Middle to high school. With seven middle schools in the first year, the League is poised to expand to an additional 5 middle schools and a minimum of five high schools next year in Duval County, in addition to two elementary schools. We developed our League to meet the five year strategic plan of the local School District and Florida Statewide Strategic Plan. We are currently developing a strong evaluation of the program not only based on where the students are, but where we hope they will be academically and socially as graduates in 2014. The majority of our schools this year are Turnaround Schools, though next year will not necessarily reflect such, we plan to expand to the feeder high schools of our targeted middle school debate teams.

Lisa: I read how your program's "lesson plans are designed to enhance debate course work inside and outside of the classroom."  This implies that the DUDL is not just an after school activity like most Forensics teams at schools (I apologize if I am wrong).  How does this program work?

Jermyn: The private-public partnership affords us the opportunity to introduce career education incentives for our debaters and debate coaches. It opens doors for professional development beyond the classroom. We use a variety of technology solutions and applications, such as VoiceThread and Google, to empower students, parents, and coaches with debate enhancement tools and lesson plans that are leveraged 24/7. The debate coaches that are educators go out of their way to incorporate these tools in their daily instruction to better prepare students for test, tournaments, and overall academic performance.

Lisa: So students sign up for debate and have competition on weekends?  How much like an after school class/activity is the DUDL?

Jermyn: Yes...we host student recruitment workshops once per quarter at each school to engage new and existing debaters in the program. Each month we host a policy debate tournament at a different site location to engage students, parents, and educators with a different learning experience at a middle or high school or diff college campus.  It follows the tradition of urban debate with After School activities and instruction, however we try as much as possible to engage novice debaters in public forums and community service learning projects

Lisa: I love the approach here and genuinely wish to know more about how the DUDL is integrated into the classroom/education system.

Jermyn: Thank you. It is definitely a work in progress with very high expectations from all involved. Debate has been strategic in rallying the entire community of Jacksonville around higher learning activities for all youth. 

Lisa: What qualifies a school or student access to use of the DUDL's resources?  

Jermyn: Nothing more than a special interest in in speech and debate at the School or District level. They can visit our website at  to sign up as a student, school, volunteer, or donor. 

Lisa: How many schools are involved?  Also, on the DUDL site student membership is listed around 150; is that number still true? 

Jermyn: We currently have about 100 registered and active members and roughly 15 schools going into the Summer. 

Lisa: What can people do to help their local Urban Debate League...or even start one? 

Jermyn: Our initial goal in developing a successful, fully engaged debate program is to get the full support of the District, Principals, and Parents commitment to the program upon sign up. We visit all entities to carefully explain the program and to have consent forms  from all parties involved. We then set up a fund development strategy for each school and a "train-the-trainer" program with ongoing support for the debate coaches involved. For interested parties who wish to sign up, they can simply go online at complete the form at  or call us directly at 904-962-7284.


It is because of leagues like the Duval Urban Debate League and the people behind them that young people in America are given a chance.  The frustrations caused by those in control’s desire between wanting to provide for students and their inability to do so is endless.  Yet, not one person or practice can be accused.  Blame No Child Left Behind’s failures, the Economy, poverty, a focus on teaching towards a test instead of a general enrichment of intelligence, misappropriation of funds, lack of focus on the arts, and so on.  The simple truth is funding cannot be relied upon, nor is funding alone enough to create a solid league - or school system even.  What can be counted upon are the people behind the league.  The dedication, passion, and will they possess is inspiring.  Without these Debate and Speech fighters battling for those without a voice, for kids who never dreamed they could even find a whisper, nothing would get accomplished.  The Duval Urban Debate League would not exist.  Nor would the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues.  The first Urban Debate League in Atlanta could never be.

But they do.  Because there are dreamers and those with compassion willing to sacrifice.  To endure. To grow.          


Works Cited

Shannon El, Jermyn. Personal Interview. 13 May 2010.

This is a good interview!  As you stated, I really didn't know much about Urban Debate.  Thanks for informing!

And that's a high growth rate after only a year, wow.

It's great that there are people like this out there in the world. Makes me want to see what I can do locally to help out those in speech and debate.

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