High school students from three area school districts brought their A-game to the Fall 2023 Dutchess BOCES Debate Tournament held at Dutchess Community College (DCC) earlier this month, debating complex and diverse topics.
Students from the Dover, Poughkeepsie and Wappingers school districts followed the “World Schools” debate format where a team of three dubbed “The Government” argued in favor of a viewpoint, while “The Opposition” argued against it. Topics included the United States implementing a four-day workweek and whether personal privacy is subordinate to the public good.
Educational Resources (ER) Coordinator Audrey Roettgers and DCC Speech Professor Margeaux Lippman coordinated and facilitated the debate where DCC students and ER staff judged the students’ efforts.

A Dover team consisting of Erika Villa Patino, Natalie Brill and Cesar Lopez Argueta, won first place overall, while John Jay student Shreya Gupta won first prize as a speaker.

Roettgers most enjoy seeing returning students evolve in their debate style year after year.

“That really gives you the opportunity to watch them grow as debaters,” Roettgers said. “We’ve got it down to being a well-oiled machine.”

Students gain numerous skills including how to structure a sound argument and actively listen, something Roettgers believes is underutilized.

“It’s to really understand what someone else is saying and being able to refute a point and to understand what their cognizant argument is, so you can respond appropriately,” Roettgers said. “This is something that can work for a lifetime.”

Dover senior Natalie O’Connor, a first time attendee, noted that participants are typically not told in advance what side of the argument they will represent, so she researches all views on a topic.

“You have to look at both sides because it really starts to eliminate misinformation,” O’Connor explained. “It really makes you think about different perspectives.”

Dover students present arguments during the debate tournament.

O’Connor cited public speaking and working as a team as crucial skills she learned from debating. Her advice to future participants is to let their fear subside and know that their teammates are there to help.

“It may be difficult, but you really just have to jump into it,” O’Connor said. “Support and lean on your teammates because they’ll really help you.”

Poughkeepsie freshman Isabella Taliaferro decided to join her school’s Debate Club because she desires to be a lawyer. While there, she learned to make more sound arguments and be organized.

“It’s been kind of stressful, but that’s what it’s like in the real world, so I want to get used to that,” Taliaferro said. “Once I found out about Debate Club in middle school, I decided this is what I wanted to do.”

Taliaferro prepared extensively for the debate and acknowledged Global Studies Teacher Sankung Susso for being a big help.

“He’s been a very good support system,” Taliaferro said of Susso.

Former debaters return to home turf

For the first time in the history of the BOCES Debate, two DCC students who participated for years when they were in high school returned to act as judges for the new generation of debaters.

John Jay graduate Andrew Check and Dover graduate Josh Montero, both part of DCC’s debate team, are not much older than the students they were judging and even debated with some of them when they were in high school.

“I think it’s someone they can connect to,” Roettgers said.

For Check, being a judge required him to listen more carefully to students’ arguments so he could give them impartial and accurate scores to help their debate style.

“For a lot of them it’s their first tournament, so with this they can take back this feedback and come back in the spring or next fall and they can improve even further,” Check explained. “It’s a great start.”

In his debate club, Check not only made tons of friends who shared similar interests, he also learned how to use reliable sources to make sound arguments and communicate efficiently to the public.

“You’re learning how to communicate your point effectively without yelling,” Check said. “You get to learn a lot about things that maybe you never knew before.”

Montero enjoyed being on his debate team where he gained confidence to speak in front of crowds. While it was strange for him to be on the other side of the debate table, Montero is thrilled to see the tradition continue and praised the students for their work.

“It’s just nice to see them here and I like to encourage that,” Montero said. “I think they’re doing pretty well.”

For anyone interested in joining a debate team at their school, Montero recommends they step out of their comfort zone and just start speaking their mind when it is their turn to speak.

“The biggest step to get over the anxiety is just to do it,” Montero said. “Eventually you get better.”