After two years of intramural debate, PS 161 joined the NYC Urban Debate League in 2012, where they now regularly compete against top NYCteams in rigorous academic competition. Even among strong programs like Berkeley Carroll, Anderson School, and Hunter, PS 161 has rapidly emerged as a home to powerhouse debaters, consistently ranked as one of the top middle school teams at the Urban Debate League tournaments.
Scholastic debate competition has been called one of the great equalizers in American Education. For PS 161‘s 50+ member team, Debate has created access to elite educational spaces, and unlocked enormous academic potential. Through giving hundreds of speeches, students develop poise, critical thinking, civic engagement and confidence. With a large percentage of English Language Learners, PS 161 is proud to have many debaters who compete in their second-language. It reverses the traditional classroom paradigm; here, the students do most of the talking. Even when life feels out of control, debate creates a forum where students can take charge and speak out–and they do.
“I say that we‘re colleagues,” says 7th grader Katherine Rosas, “which means that we work together, and we don’t always like each other, but we do always care about each other. And we are there for each other no matter what.”
The team practices during debate enrichment classes, lunch, recess and after school, and competes in about two tournaments a month. Last February, twelve debaters attended the Westchester Classic, an overnight tournament at Lakeland High School, winning first place Parliamentary team.
The 161 debaters spend hours and hours together inside and out of school. They challenge each other and push each other to be better.
“The team is really a family,” several students say. Ask any of the students to tell you themselves– they love to talk.