Park Trails Elementary Takes Home 13 Medals at Debate Tournament
Park Trails Elementary Debate Team in Parkland, FL. {Courtesy Park Trails}

By Faran Fagen

Eye contact, voice inflection, using your hands to enhance what you’re saying,  and projection to tell the story.

These were the skills honed by the Park Trails Elementary debate team at their recent competition in the Northeast Broward Elementary Debate Tournament at J.P. Taravella High School.

The team of 19 students in grades three through five brought home 13 medals in four of the five debate categories.

“These students worked so hard week after week memorizing and preparing for the tournament,” said coach Deanna Boehm, office manager at Park Trails Elementary. “When they came to us, they all had the ability to stand in front of their peers and talk, but the growth that they have experienced so far this year in their ability to captivate their audience and truly entertain is what makes being a debate coach so exciting.”

Boehm co-coaches with first-grade Gifted Teacher Glendaly Berthiaume. The students tried out at the beginning of the year to make the debate team. Only 19 students out of 60 made it, which consisted of five third-graders, five fourth-graders, and nine fifth-graders.

At the J.P. Taravella tournament, impromptu students took five out of the eight places that were awarded medals. Interpretation students took two out of four, Oratory took six out of nine, and one congressional student took fifth.

“This week at the tournament, we watched our team cheer for one another as they won and consoled their peers who didn’t medal,” Boehm said. “They’ve learned that this truly is their little debate family.”

This was the second debate tournament they entered this year. Four tournaments lead up to the championship on Saturday, May 6. The students meet every Tuesday for 90 minutes to work on their speeches with their coaches and peers.

The categories they compete in are diverse.

Original Oratory is where the students write their own speeches that have to be 3-5 minutes long, and they must present them completely memorized for the highest scores.

Impromptu is where students go in with no speech prepared. They only know the two general topics (this month was Motivation and Travel). They have eight minutes to prepare and present.

In Interpretation, the students take someone else’s written work and recite the work creatively and entertainingly. In Congress, students are given two bills for which they must study and write pro and con speeches.

Boehm is amazed at how each grade rises to the challenge for each category.

“Knowing that we have 9-year-olds in third grade participating and succeeding right along with fifth graders is amazing,” she said. “You watch them take all the skills you are teaching them and put it to use.”

Park Trails had a debate team in the past but recently brought it back after the pandemic. For both Boehm and Berthiaume, it’s their first-year coaching debate.

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Author Profile

Faran Fagen
Faran Fagen
Faran Fagen, who teaches high school journalism, graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Journalism degree and from Florida Atlantic University with a degree in Education. He's worked at The Palm Beach Post, SunSentinel, and He lives in Coral Springs with his wife and two children. Oh, and his three dogs -- who all think that they're his favorite.
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Michael Bander