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Debate teams scrutinize youth voting and space exploration at city championship

Baltimore Urban Debate League (BUDL) hosts annual competition

Should 16-year-olds have the right to vote? Does space exploration do more good than harm?  Not only did 68 City Schools students stand in front of their peers and judges and make informed and compelling arguments…  but a few minutes later, they had to argue the exact opposite!  

It wasn’t easy, but the competitors at the Baltimore Urban Debate League’s (BUDL) championship tournament were up for the challenge in late May at Henderson-Hopkins Elementary/Middle School. For almost 25 years, BUDL has promoted debate to engage students in critical thinking and exercising their voices in public discourse.

“Debate is an amazing opportunity, and it makes me feel heard,” says Shania Burris, a sophomore at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. “Most of the time at school or at home, I don't get a big say. When it comes to debate, I can have my word, I can have my say.  For me, it's about freedom and my hope and my voice.”

Students hone their skills at their schools’ debate clubs. At tournaments, they debate both sides of local and national issues against their peers in solo, team and original oratory (speeches) formats. Judges award points based on content organization/language, delivery, and purpose. 

BUDL students choose the topics, which have included space exploration, police-worn body cameras, universal pre-k and the proposed Baltimore light rail Red Line. 

“People need to be able to engage in debates, use critical thinking and have calm conversations and disagreements with others,” says Dr. Coleen Reyes, BUDL’s Executive Director. “Debate is giving kids from different neighborhoods and backgrounds the chance to talk about the issues important to them — from both sides.”

For Brandon Dickens, a seventh-grader at Baltimore International Academy, the appeal of debate is the exposure to different ideas. “You get to show people how you think,” says Brandon. “When you’re writing arguments and citing information to prepare for a debate, you discover research and perspectives from a lot of sources.” 

After two years of Zoom debating, the May tournament was the first in-person competition for many students. Organizers were excited to see the students quickly adapt and thrive. 

“Studies show that students who participate in debate demonstrate better critical thinking ability, empathy, emotional control and research skills,” says Dr. Reyes. “Not only are these crucial for college and career, but data shows that our elementary and middle school debaters are more likely to be accepted to their first-choice high school. The self-esteem they’re building at debate can take them anywhere.” 

Congratulations to all the competitors at this year’s tournament! 

From July 5th to August 11th, BUDL is hosting six weeks of games, crafts, and ways for students to grow their voices. It’s FREE for Baltimore City students from third through eighth grade. More info and application at

Here are the winners of BUDL’s May 21, 2022, tournament at Henderson Hopkins. 

Middle School - Open Public Forum, Individual: 
Annabel Fogelman (Virtual Community Team)

Middle School - Open Public Forum, Team: 
Jordan Manely and Abraham Stolbach (Virtual Community Team)

High School - Open Public Forum, Individual:
Raymond Neer (Bard High School Early College Baltimore)

High School Open Public Forum, Team: 
Raymond Neer and Rasheed Mtumia (Bard High School Early College Baltimore)

Elementary School -  Open Public Forum, Individual: 
Kyi’Mira Chester (Henderson- Hopkins)

Elementary School - Open Public Forum, Team: 
Logan Bishop and Kyi’Mira Chester (Henderson-Hopkins)

Middle School - Open Original Oratory, Individual:
Jordan Manely (Virtual Community Team)

Elementary School - Open Original Oratory:
Jaden Adarkwah-Yiadom (Hampstead Hill Academy)


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