North St. Paul’s Spectacular Spanish Debate Debut

Students from North High School in North St. Paul pose with Ella Reiswig, our communication intern.

Students from North High School in North St. Paul pose with Ella Reiswig, our communication intern.

The Minnesota Urban Debate League, a program of Augsburg University, has long provided opportunities for debate in Minneapolis and St. Paul Public Schools. Spanish Debate League made its suburban debut in North St. Paul this spring, with programming at North St. Paul! 


The team at North has found great success in their first year ever competing. At the first tournament of the year, Rafael Espinosa & Maria Vazquez were the champions of the principiante (novice) division! Rafael also earned the Top Speaker Award and Maria was runner-up. Rafael also earned a top 10 speaker award at the highly competitive Championship (Campeonato) tournament.


Maria, a 12th grade student at North, shares:


“I have learned a lot from debate. I have learned the structure, plus how to improve my listening skills by paying attention to what my opponent says to ask him/her questions. My opponents took it quite seriously and were very well prepared. That makes a debate with a lot of tension!” 


Keep reading to learn more about the Spanish Debate League experience at North High School.

An Intellectual Challenge 


In debate, students must thoroughly research multiple sides of a topic, use evidence to support their arguments, and disprove their opponents’ arguments- all while speaking persuasively and clearly! In Spanish Debate, students must also think on the fly in another language and learn complex vocabulary to compete. 


Emelin, who tried debate for the first time this year, was surprised at how challenging debate could be:


“Debate was not really what I expected. I thought it would be easier, but in reality it takes a lot of dedication and effort! It’s not easy, but it is really interesting seeing other people’s opinions.” 


This year, competitors argued whether, on balance, Las redes sociales son seguras y útiles para nuestra sociedad. (Social media is safe and useful for our society.) Students discussed the ways that social media both positively and negatively influences safety, business, personal growth, and mental health. 


Angel Caballero, a senior, says to not be fooled by a seemingly simple topic.


“Debate is difficult. More people should know that what seems like taking a simple theme, like social media, and putting into a debate with positive and negative sides, is actually very complicated. You can take any simple theme and turn it into a really complex debate.” 


Students must prepare both an affirmative (pro) and negative (con) case for every tournament. Debate provides an opportunity for students to exercise their critical thinking skills and deeper analyze multiple angles of a topic. 


“Watching a debate can really change your opinion,” says Emelin. 


“There are really good arguments in support and against social media. I can see it from both perspectives,” Angel adds. 

Why Debate In Spanish?


By competing in debate, students bolster their critical thinking, learn how to make and support arguments on the fly, and become confident public speakers. Debating in Spanish adds another layer of intellectual challenge- and cultural relevance- to the activity. 


Berit Engstrom, head Spanish Debate coach at North High School, tells us, 


“Having the Spanish Debate League is an important opportunity for students to be able to engage and speak in Spanish when most classes are in English. Students may often speak Spanish amongst one another, but having a more formal opportunity to expand vocabulary and think about complex ideology in Spanish is an important way to support the language and culture that represents a lot of our students. It’s important in our schools that, if we’re going to create equitable environments that support all students, we need extracurricular activities and clubs that can be those spaces.” 


Tulio Reyes, who served as a community coach for the team, adds, “Last year, I was a student at North High and I didn’t have these types of opportunities. I’m happy for the students that had the opportunity to participate in something like this.”


Inspired to Join? Here’s What You Should Know.


Competing in debate now can help students reap opportunities in the future. From Gustavo “Gus” Garcia to Sonia Sotomayor, many famous former debaters have used their advocacy skills to enrich their communities. Debate is also a sought-after activity for college admissions. 


Participation also brings opportunities close to home: Students who compete for 2 or more years with the MNUDL, maintain their GPA, and qualify for a Pell Grant are eligible for the Augsburg Promise Scholarship- 4 years of full tuition to Augsburg University. 


Debate may sound daunting, but after competing this year, North High School students are confident that even shy students can succeed with practice. 


Emelin tried debate for the first time this year. She says, “Don’t be shy and try your best, because no one is perfect and everyone can do this!” 


Maria adds,


“Prepare your arguments very well, become an expert in what you are arguing because when they ask you questions you will know what to answer. Also, don’t be afraid to try it, get out of your comfort zone, you will learn a lot and will have fun!” 


¿Hablas español con fluidez? Become a Spanish Debate League volunteer judge! No previous debate experience is needed. We will train you! Sign up to be part of our volunteer list to be alerted of volunteer opportunities: