Philadelphia students shine in after-school debate program

Matteo Iadonisi Image
Monday, March 6, 2023
Philadelphia students shine in after-school debate program
Two local students just scored a major win on the debate stage. But there's even more to celebrate within this after-school program across the city.

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "In every corner of the city and every school, there are brilliant young minds that are just looking for opportunities where they can test themselves," said Justin Ennis. "Experiences that speak to their interests."

Ennis is the Executive Director of the nonprofit, After School Activities Partnerships, or ASAP. Across the city, they help coordinate events with chess, debate, drama, and scrabble.

"The big message is, for any school that wants to have a strong debate program or a chess program or drama or scrabble program, they don't have to do it alone," said Ennis, "And that ASAP is here to help them do it."

Action News caught a glimpse of the ASAP action at Central High School, where local schools gathered to compete in their last regular season debate before finals. At the start of each matchup, teams are assigned either the pro or con side of an argument and must convince a judge of their case.

"Once I got into it, it was really like, I clicked immediately," said Iya Nealy, a senior and captain at Philadelphia High School for Girls. "And I've done it all four years in my high school career and now I'm actually judging. So that's really cool."

Students like Nealy can not only rise in rank to become judges and observers, but can also compete in competitions outside of ASAP.

In early February 2023, the 48th University of Pennsylvania Tournament took place. ASAP debate teams are invited to compete through a partnership with Penn For Youth Debate. There, Julia R. Masterman School juniors Henry Anastasi and Joshua Cohen secured the trophy in the varsity public forum debate.

"I guess I would consider that my crowning achievement right now," said Anastasi. "But I think there are lots of smaller things, smaller victories that made me think like, wow, I can do this."

The Masterman debate club's sponsor, English teacher Michael Kamison, says that's only the start of what students in the city might accomplish if they participate.

"I would love to see more schools from the district involved. I would love to see more teams springing up around the city," said Kamison. "I think what they learn here in debate is going to help them no matter where they end up."

To learn more about ASAP programs and how to get involved, visit their website.

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