Harmony School of Innovation Sugar Land Debate Team is winding down another successful year under the guidance of coach Amanda Trost.
Trost has been with Harmony since 2009, with HSI Sugar Land since 2014, and was congratulated as one of the school’s two teachers of the year for 2016-17. The past three years have brought success and new opportunities for the team. Perhaps most notable is that in April of 2016, students hosted and moderated a mayoral debate for the City of Sugar Land, meeting with all five candidates individually prior to the event to discuss policies and platforms.
Trost is passionate about providing leadership opportunities to her students and connecting them with community leaders and opportunities for growth.
The team starts their season in August and travels several weekends a month for the remainder of the school year. What makes HSI’s debate team unique is that not only do its members successfully compete on the local circuit at tournaments, they participate heavily in real world applications of debate.
Last October, the team hosted a panel on qualified immunity for police officers. Students from the team and from neighboring schools sat in the audience as varsity debaters Paige, Amal, and Marertu posed questions on police brutality and the criminal justice system to criminal defense attorney Shawn McDonald, Lt. Chris Thompson from the Sugar Land Police Department, activists Stevens Orozco and Biko Gray, Judge David Newell from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and attorney and political analyst Chris Tritico.
January marked the third year for HSI Debate’s middle school mentorship program. The program, which runs January through August, pairs high school debaters with middle school students interested in being on the high school team. High school students run practices, create curriculum, host competitions, and serve as coaches for middle school students.
Middle school students are also given the opportunity to shadow a high school debater at spring competitions. On April 29, they will compete at a middle school competition in Conroe to test their skills and readiness. Junior An is passionate about the project and is one of the instructors at after school practices.
In February, HSI Debate successfully completed its second year in mock trial, a competition in which students try a fictional court case acting as attorneys and witnesses. The mock trial team, which consisted of juniors Chris, Faye, Meltem, and Chioma, and sophomores Amal, Kenneth, Paige, and Marertu, attended a weekend workshop at the Dallas federal courthouse and recruited the help of Houston criminal defense attorney Erik Nelson, who worked intensely with them to understand the ins and outs of trial.
Debaters also spent a day at the Fort Bend County Courthouse observing a criminal court trial in the courtroom of Judge Maggie Perez-Jaramillo, meeting afterward with the judge and trial attorneys who tried the case. They then traveled to Beaumont to scrimmage against and learn from a successful mock trial team in a neighboring competition district.
There they were able to practice in the city’s federal courthouse and met with attorneys Mark Parks and Ryan Gert as well as federal judge Ron Clark who were able to offer critiques and assist both teams for future success. All of this was in preparation for the citywide competition where they received positive feedback from local judges and attorneys who were impressed with the improvements they made since the year before.
On March 27, HSI debate hosted “Your Future in Public Speaking,” a series of performances, motivational speeches, and Q&A sessions from professionals in communications related fields. Speakers included motivational speaker Jonathan Grant Brown, Sugar Land City Councilman Harish Jajoo, political analyst Jacquie Baly, St. Thomas mock trial coach Derrick Owens, internationally ranked poet Outspoken Bean, and Houston criminal attorney Erik Nelson.
In addition to on campus events and local/state competitions, Trost aims to set students up with leadership opportunities elsewhere. She was instrumental in Sugar Land High’s acceptance into the scholarship pool for the Fort Bend Optimist of Sugar Land Club. Senior debate team member, Tommy, won first place in the club’s oratory speech contest in Sugar Land, earning him a $200 scholarship. He will go on to compete on April 29 in Corpus Christi for a chance at a larger scholarship.
Another senior at HSI, Alexia, earned a $2,000 scholarship in the Optimist essay contest and seniors Owais and Beyzanur represented the campus at the Optimist Club’s Youth Appreciation Banquet on April 18.
Trost initiated school involvement in the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Foundation in 2014. Their involvement in debate landed HSI sophomores Puneet and Hatice a spot at the foundation’s leadership program this summer. HOBY runs seminars around the country designed to enhance student leadership and teamwork skills. Students there meet one on one with leaders in their community in various fields, focusing on volunteerism, media, education, philanthropy, and politics. Students are given experience leading groups of their peers and adults and have an opportunity to qualify for the World Leadership Congress in late July.
The HSI debate team is still very young. It is comprised of 21 seventh and eighth graders, 22 freshmen, 19 sophomores, 12 juniors, and two seniors. The team is currently celebrating their seniors’ college acceptances and proud of the preparation that debate gave them for the road ahead. Second year debater and Oratory Chairman Tommy will be attending Emory University on a full ride scholarship and third year debater and Debate Club President, Esat will be attending Harvard University.
Next year, the team plans to continue debate and mock trial competitions while also starting an oral interpretation program. Students are focused on qualifying for the Texas Forensic Association State Tournament. The team has also expressed interest in hosting a TEDx Youth conference next school year and is planning to start a Toastmasters club this summer.