OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — We live in a world today that is often divided. Right vs. wrong, yes vs. no, left vs. right, making many debates in-person and online heated.
However, nine kids from all over the metro proved last week that you can debate a topic while understanding everyone is entitled to their own opinions.
“They’ve learned how to debate like congress people, only a little bit better than our congress people do,” Director and Founder of Guided by Kids Fred Robertson said.
Robertson started Guided by Kids four years ago. The longtime high school debate coach wanted to get elementary and middle school students into speech and debate at an earlier age.
Numbers were growing before covid hit. But then, the number of participants dropped to zero.
It made its return for a summer camp last week. Thanks to the idea from the team, Robertson helps coach at Marian.
“It was really the congress students who compete in congressional debate here, said ‘I think middle school would really like congress.’ I said, ‘You know what — I think you’re right.”
They were right.
“Yeah, I’m definitely doing this again,” Cole Barrall, who will be entering La Vista Middle School this year, said. “This is too fun not to do this.”
“This is just one of the best opportunities that I could’ve hoped for,” Elise Mays, who will be entering 7th grade at Westside Middle School, said.
The Marian High School students helped lead the way in teaching the younger kids.
The first few days were spent learning the intricacies of congressional debate, how to form a bill and solid speech, and meeting with state senators.
After each day, the students were then sent home to research topics. They had the week to construct their own speeches and eventually propose their own bill in a three-hour congressional session that closed out the camp Friday.
“We’re all making our speeches, we’re all making our positives and negatives, you have people writing things down, everyone is involved,” Barrall said.
“Researching these topics is hard. Just coming up with these topics is hard by itself,” Marian High School Congressional Debate Student Collette Lawler, who served as a judge during the session, said. “Seeing that they are committed to this is so off the charts.”
They covered mature topics such as immigration and law enforcement.
Something pretty rare for students this young — during summer, nonetheless.
“It’s just so amazing to see how passionate they are about the issues that they believe in,” Lawler said. “I know when I was in middle school I wasn’t thinking about any of these issues at all.”
“There are some kids who couldn’t care less, but I feel like this specific group is like, ‘I want to fix heavy topics. I want to make the world great,’” Mays said.
Not only does this expose them to a school activity that they can pursue, but it also teaches them lessons they can use for a lifetime.
“A lot of these days polarization is huge. It’s just people screaming insults at each other back and forth,” Lawler said. “So, just learning a skill to be respectful to others, no matter what their opinion is, it’s just so important.”
“It has taught me a lot about how to work with others and how to communicate what your thoughts are while staying calm,” Mays said.
A book we could all take a page out of.
“Different opinions don’t define us, you know?” Mays said.
At the end of the summer camp, the nine students each picked a non-profit for Guided by Kids to donate to in their honor.
Guided by Kids will return in December and meet weekly through May, and will even compete in competitions as a club against other schools that have programs.