Against a background of pizza slices, text reads "Free Pizza, Kick-off Party, Join Debate"

The most effective way to get high school students to show up – free pizza.

The start of the school year is a hectic time for both students and teachers as everybody has to figure out new courses and new schedules. For debaters, September means kickoff parties that mark the start of the debate season. These gatherings are a time to welcome back our returning veterans and meet the new students who are interested in trying out debate (or maybe just the free pizza.)

Some students might have been new, but they were all excited to debate. They offered no shortage of challenges and counterarguments to Travis, the MNUDL Program Director, at the debate kickoff for the Washington Technology Magnet School. The moment he brought up this year’s debate topic, about USA-China relations, students started taking positions for and against.

It’s an abstract issue that was chosen by the National Speech and Debate Association, and some coaches were worried about how distant it is from student experiences. But these kids were eager to start discussing it, with nothing more than what they had already learned one way or another about the East Asian geopolitical situation. Sarah Wellington, their coach and a teacher at Wash-Tech, said that these students were advanced – they could handle the difficult material.

One returning debater, asked to explain to the newer students what had brought her back, said that debate made her feel smart. Alongside that she said it looks good on everything, from resumes to college applications. But what’s really important is how debate brings people together. Returning debaters had their friendships, and over the course of the kickoff the new students rapidly bonded with each other.

None of this would be possible without the coach, who helps lead her debate team on top of her responsibilities as a teacher. She greeted every student by name, new and veteran alike, and kept track of who hadn’t showed up yet. Our coaches are the backbone of the MNUDL, and they’re dedicated to their students.

Kickoff parties are a fun way to celebrate the start of the year with a few slices of pizza and some light-hearted discussions. These teams will buckle in and get serious as the season heats up, but for now it looks like things are off to a good start.