Peninsula High School student Audrey Gainey, right, listens to KPMS debate club student Surfer Martin, 14, articulate her point during a recent mentoring session. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

Audrey Gainey thinks that learning to do public speaking and debate gives youngsters some very important life skills that can help them think objectively and communicate better.

Gainey, 17, has started a speech and debate club at Key Peninsula Middle School.

She’s a senior at Peninsula High School, where she’s co-captain of the speech and debate team.

The KPMS club, which meets every week, is Gainey’s senior project.

“One of the biggest things about speech and debate is that it gives people an outlet, it teaches kids how to present themselves and express themselves,”Gainey said.

The speech part helps you develop confidence and communication skills, “and the debate part allows you to see both sides of an issue and create good points for both sides of the issue and use evidence and rhetorical devices and just be able to create persuasive arguments,” she said.

Nationally and in statewide competitions, the PHS team is “really doing well,” Gainey said. The PHS team competes regularly in tournaments against other Washington high schools and even students from Idaho and Canada.

“You get the topics a month before the tournament,” she explained. “They might be things like genetically modified organisms, peacekeepers, military aid versus developmental aid, education and so forth,” she said.

The goal, she said, is “to persuade the judge to your side of the issue.”

“You go into it with a four-minute prepared speech and then the rest of the round we come up with on-the-spot responses, not something we’ve prepared. Everyone has the same amount of time to speak or respond to something. You have to interact with the other team and their points,”Gainey said.

There’s also a questioning period where both sides get to ask each other questions about their case and the topic –– so each side gets a better understanding of the other point of view, she added.

Gainey uses those same rules and techniques in the KPMS club, which she began soon after school started last fall, although, she said, the idea had been in the works for a couple of years.

“We give the kids debate topics ––like ‘let’s think of pro arguments and arguments that are against this topic,’” she said. “We spend a lot of time talking about both sides of the topic.

“We also talk about how to structure your arguments. You can’t just say that this is true without giving evidence or backing it up logically,” she said flatly.

Gainey said that club members also participate in weekly events like “impromptu things.”

“I give them a random topic that they’ve never seen before and they have to create a six-minute speech on the spot.

“So it really gets them to think on their feet and how to construct their ideas and present them clearly in a short amount of time,” she said.

Gainey attended KPMS in the sixth and eighth grade.

“There weren’t that many opportunities back then for me as a student to be able to figure out what I’d like to do, and that’s a big disadvantage when you get to high school and there are so many more clubs than there are at the middle school. So I think it’s really good that kids at KPMS are getting more opportunities,” Gainey said.

Surfer Martin, 14, is a KPMS Speech and Debate Club member. “When I heard about the Debate Club I thought it sounded intriguing, especially knowing how to state my opinion,” Martin said.

“I thought that I’d give it a go. It’s very cool and really neat to work with high school seniors and collaborate with them and be taught about debate and speech form. I’m learning a lot,” she said. “Audrey is really good as a mentor and she helps me learn how to get better at debating. I think I’ll take debate at Peninsula, too.”

One of Gainey’s close friends and fellow PHS students, Alec Dionne, has started a similar club at Harbor Ridge Middle School in Gig Harbor.

“We both really want to recruit more people for our high school team and just to give these kids some lifelong speaking skills,”Gainey said. 

The two middle schools will hold a debate tournament in February or March.

“Knowing that there’s going to be a tournament has given the kids something to look forward to and something to drive them,”Gainey said.

“In high school we have tournaments every week so we’re constantly working on our craft and our speaking skills because we have this goal to reach. So we want to have that same kind of goal in our clubs for the middle school kids,” she said.

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