Holiday Spirit

Darian Huiltron-Riverra, a senior at East Palo Alto Academy, delivers a practice closing statement to her debate coach, Kwodwo Morre, during a coaching session on campus after school on Nov. 18. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Posted December 13, 2019

Through the art of debate, students find their voice
High schoolers take on an activity many fear: public speaking

by Jamey Padojino

Jules Thomas has always been confident in his public speaking skills, but nerves got the best of him when he first entered the world of debate.

During his freshman year of high school, he was intimidated by the sight of people speed talking through their points and felt challenged when he faced rebuttal arguments from the opposing team.

At his first tournament, he was stumped by a question and ended up losing the match. The loss was enough to make him stop participating with the Silicon Valley Urban Debate League for a while. With his mother's encouragement, he improved his skills by watching a video of himself in a debate round and then felt motivated to return.

On the night before a debate tournament last school year, he was up from 2-5 a.m. reading as many articles as he could on the topic of selling guns to Afghanistan and Iran to drill key ideas in his head.

He was thrilled when he and his partner were assigned to argue against the issue and shocked when his team was named the winner.

"Are you sure?" he recalled asking the judge.

His partner quickly told him to be quiet and accept the result.

"I felt that victory," he said in an interview with the Weekly. "I felt like the hard work that I put into (it is) the reason why I won."

Thomas, a 16-year-old homeschooled junior, is one of nearly 30 students in East Palo Alto involved with the debate league, which partners with the East Palo Alto Academy, Oxford Academy and College Track (where Thomas attends weekly practices).

The nonprofit debate league received a $5,000 grant this year from the Palo Alto Weekly Fund to help pay for the league's head coaches, the weeklong Summer Debate Institute (at which students practiced their public speaking skills with the San Francisco cast of "Hamilton") and tournament-related expenses.

Some debate programs revolve around the goal of winning tournaments, but for this debate league, it's all about what the students gain from the activity, said Mecca Billings, the nonprofit's director of development.

The Holiday Fund has also supported the league's mentoring program, through which students visit local companies and meet professionals who tell them how debate has impacted their careers, Billings said.

A bulk of the students' time is spent on research, debates against one another and mental preparation to enter a tournament with help from their head coach, Kwodwo Moore.

"I'm not very different than the students. I try not to put myself above them," said Moore, who first became involved in debate eight years ago while he was a student at Emeryville High School.

"Public speaking ... helps to build character and strength and a sense of self in the people who do it."

Moore used his enthusiasm for debate during a recent Monday afternoon inside an East Palo Alto Academy classroom to motivate five students, most of whom are freshmen.

After fueling up on snacks, the teens prepared for a tournament at Santa Clara University by reviewing the three areas competitors need to cover within a policy debate: identifying the harms, describing the barriers around the issue and proving their plan is solvent.

They then dove into a debate in which they argued in support of a resolution composed by Moore: "The United States federal government should tell landlords in East Palo Alto not to charge more than $2,000 a month in rent to anyone."

Each student hesitated as they stepped up to the front of the classroom and carefully delivered their arguments, often looking down at their notes as the timer ticked away.

"The problem is the rent is too expensive," freshman Aaliyah Johnson said.

"We should try helping (homeless) people because we obviously care about the people of EPA," said Diana Torres, a fellow freshman.

"Our main focus should be the people in East Palo Alto who have been here for years and are struggling so much," senior Darian Huiltron-Riverra said.

After each speech, Moore cross-examined the students, who found themselves having to construct a response on the spot.

Following the debate, Moore deconstructed their ideas, giving the students a glimpse of the importance of taking notes to track their opponents' points. Telling a judge how he or she should think about an issue could work out in their favor, he added.

"Think about it like a game where you go point for point. ... That's how you win rounds."

Thomas, now in his third year with the debate league, said he has tried to get more students interested in the program, but many say they don't consider the activity the "coolest" thing to do.

"Some of my peers say, 'Why are you doing this? This is for white people,'" said Thomas, who is African American. "And I have to remind them (that) I can learn it too."

He said he has seen more people of color learn debate recently with a goal of using their public speaking skills in the real world.

"Debate is for everybody ... no matter who you are, no matter what you are," he said.

Now considered an experienced debater, Thomas, who joined the league with a strong interest in politics, has guided and related to other students who are working through their struggles as novice debaters.

"Don't worry; just work hard," he's told his younger peers. "Do what you need to do. Learn the negative and positive about the situation or topic and you'll be alright."

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2019 Grant Recipients

49ers Academy
Academic and social support services for East Palo Alto students attending Menlo-Atherton High School$5,000

Able Works
Financial literacy education for high school students at East Palo Alto Academy, Oxford Day Academy and Menlo-Atherton High School$5,000

Ada's Café
Training and support of developmentally disabled employees and high school student interns$5,000

Adolescent Counseling Services
Outlet Program providing support services and counseling for LGBTQ+ youth$7,500

Aim High for High School
Summer academic program for East Palo Alto middle school students aimed at preparing them for a successful high school experience$5,000

All Students Matter
Expansion of literacy intervention program focused on 3rd-5th grade students in Ravenswood school district$15,000

Art in Action
Art education program serving more than 650 students in grades K-8 at three schools in the Ravenswood school district$5,000

Art of Yoga
Yoga, creative art and other mindfulness activities for more than 500 juvenile girls in the criminal justice system$5,000

Bayshore Christian Ministries
Academic "Create" summer camp providing STEAM-focused classes and activities for Ravenswood district middle school students$5,000

Big Brothers Big Sisters
Support for Match Support Specialists who oversee and coach the adult volunteers matched with children$5,000

Buena Vista Homework Club
Homework center for elementary and middle school aged youth living at the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park$10,000

CASSY
School-based free mental health services to students and families in five Ravenswood elementary and middle schools$10,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto
Legal assistance to East Palo Alto residents facing eviction and other rental housing problems and conflicts$10,000

Downtown Streets Team
Funding for a Case Management Flex Fund to help team members pay for fees and other expenses that are necessary to pursue housing, employment and other opportunities$7,500

DreamCatchers
General support for after-school tutoring program serving low-income Palo Alto middle school students$20,000

East Palo Alto Academy Foundation
Peer leadership program to develop mentors and motivate high school students to participate in STEM-focused "Dream Lab"$7,500

East Palo Alto Charter School (EPACS)
Science program at K-5 elementary charter school$7,500

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation
Educator Micro Grants Program, providing $600 grants to Ravenswood school district teachers for classroom supplies and field trips$10,000

East Palo Alto Tennis & Tutoring
Development of math tutoring curriculum for underperforming 1st to 8th graders$10,000

Environmental Volunteers
Monthly public environmental education programs for youth and adults$5,000

Family Connections
Early childhood education program supporting parents of preschoolers through 3rd grade in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park.$5,000

Fit Kids Foundation
Physical activity program for children 4-13 in East Palo Alto$5,000

Foundation for a College Education
College Knowledge middle and high school program designed to prepare students and their families to pursue a college education$7,500

Friends of Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo
Science Outreach Program providing hands on science instruction in Ravenswood school district$5,000

Get Involved Palo Alto
Service-learning internship placement program for high school students wanting to work with low-income youth$5,000

Hidden Villa
Summer camp scholarships$5,000

Jasper Ridge Farm
Farm animal visits to Ronald McDonald House$5,000

Kara
Spanish language grief support program$7,500

KIPP Valiant Community Prep
Mental health counseling services at public charter school in East Palo Alto$3,000

La Comida
Support for newly opened downtown senior lunch program$7,500

Live in Peace
"Gap Year Project" to guide and support at-risk high school graduates unprepared or uncertain about careers or college$7,500

Marine Science Institute
Underwriting of environmental and marine science education program for K-12 low-income students$5,000

Music in the Schools Foundation
Music education in Ravenswood school district$5,000

New Creation Home Ministries
Parenting and life skills classes for teen mothers in East Palo Alto$5,000

New Voices for Youth
Video production equipment and training for middle school students at the Boys and Girls Club in East Palo Alto$3,000

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation
Cultural Kaleidoscope, an arts-education program pairing Palo Alto and East Palo Alto students and using professional artists$5,000

Palo Alto Housing
Workshops for high school students and parents residing in subsidized housing on college and career options and financial planning$5,000

Palo Alto Music Connection
Volunteer student-run group providing free music lessons to Ravenswood middle school students$5,000

Peninsula HealthCare Connection
Mobile "Backpack Medicine" program to reach area homeless who need but do not seek out medical care$7,500

Peninsula Volunteers
Meals on Wheels program serving 13,000 meals to low-income clients in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park$5,000

Project WeHOPE
Classes and counseling to support the homeless in East Palo Alto$15,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation
Purchase of school uniforms and other clothing for homeless and low-income students in Ravenswood school district$7,500

Rebuilding Together Peninsula
Safe at Home home repair program serving low-income home owners in East Palo Alto$5,000

Silicon Valley Urban Debate League
After school debate program at East Palo Alto Academy, Oxford Day Academy and College Track and Summer Debate Institute$5,000

St. Elizabeth Seton School
New and updated science text books for K-5 classrooms$10,000

St. Francis of Assisi Youth Club
After school literacy and enrichment program for 3rd through 5th graders in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park$5,000

TheatreWorks
TheatreWorks for Schools arts education program for grades K-12$5,000

YMCA East Palo Alto
Summer "Full STEAM Ahead" program for high school students, combining academic curriculum with recreational outings$10,000

YMCA Ross Road
Five-week summer enrichment camp for low-income elementary school students who are required to attend PAUSD summer school$5,000

Youth Community Service
Support of Summer of Service day camp scholarships, service clubs at local middle and high schools, service days and life skills programs for at-risk teens$20,000

Youth Speaks Out
Expressive arts program enabling marginalized teens whose voices may not be otherwise heard to collaborate on artistic projects with each other and supportive adults.$12,000

Child Care Facility Improvement Grants

Friends of Preschool Family
Playground improvements, including outdoor musical instruments and raised planting bed$5,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool
Raised planter boxes and new irrigation system in play yard$5,000

The Learning Center
Continued construction of outdoor classroom, including water table, raised beds and outdoor musical instruments$5,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care
Outdoor garden learning classroom at Thacher Children's Center$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School
Outdoor teacher work station$5,000

Parents Nursery School
Maintenance of outdoor play structures, including replacement of old tires with building blocks$5,000

As of Jan 14, 2020,
382 donors have contributed $458,525.
* indicates amount withheld

25 Anonymous125,670
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Jan & Freddy Gabus250
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Marc Igler & Jennifer Cray100
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Tom & Darlene McCalmont500
Cynthia Costell100
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Romola Georgia*
Roger Warnke300
Rick & Eileen Brooks500
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Beth & Peter Rosenthal300
Constance Crawford125
Linda & Jerry Elkind250
Diane Finklestein200
Eric Keller & Janice Bohman500
Tom & Nancy Fiene100
Kay & Don Remsen*
Werner Graf*
Sallie & Jay Whaley*
Scott Pearson500
Marilyn, Dale, Rick & Mei Simbeck*
Mandy Lowell*
Robyn H Crumly*
John & Kristine Erving*
Barbara Klein*
Elizabeth Lillard-Bernal*
Virginia Laibl100
Hoda Epstein*
Victor Befera100
Elizabeth Kok*
Rosalie Shepherd100
John Keller200
Anne & Don Vermeil*
Steve & Diane Ciesinski500
Bruce & Jane Gee250
Kenyon Family500
Jocelyn Dong*
Deborah Mytels100
Eilenn Brennan*
Marian Scheuer100
Ruchita Parat100
Susan Light100
Ellen Krasnow*
Dennis & Cindy Dillon300
Graceann Johnson100
Diane & Branimir Sikic*
James Lobdell250
Eric Filseth350
Deborah Wexler500
Erika Buck100
Ted & Becky Baer200
Arthur Keller100
Omar & Michelle Baldonado*
Lodato Family500
Dennis & Cindy Dillon*
Helene Pier*
Good Bear Charitable Fund5,000
Bjorn & Michele Liencres1,000
Kathryn & A.C. Johnston100
Florence Barr250
John Wilkes600
Chris Saccheri*
Daniel Chapiro400
Laurie Hunter & Jonathan MacQuitty2,500
Jean & Dexter Dawes250
Susan Osofsky200
Fruchterman Family250
Bob Aulgur1,000
Joyce & Gerry Barker200
Jacqueline Rush100
Jack & Martha McLaughlin200
Monica Engel Williams200
Fran Codispoti250
Delle Maxwell2,500
Margaret & Curt Weil100
Paul Duffie & Elizabeth Schwerer100
John & Lynn Wiese200
Diane & Bob Simoni200
Gavin & Tricia Christensen*
Marvin & Kate Feinstein200
Irvin & Marilyn Yalom100
Steve & Gayle Brugler1,000
John Tang200
Joan Norton*
David & Betsy Fryberger100
Lawrence Yang & Jennifer Kuan1,000
Barry Goldblatt200
Larry Klein1,000
Mike & Jean Couch250
Veronica Tincher*
David Fischer & Susan Bartalo200
Kenneth Bencala & Sally O'Neil200
Shapiro Family*
David & Karen Backer500
David Labaree200
Leannah Hunt250
Pat & Penny Barrett150
Jean Doble*
Annette Isaacson100
Linda Selden480
Sandy Napel103
Deborah Williams & Jean Luc Laminette1,000
Merele McClure200
Carolyn Williams200
Barbara Kinsey500
Alice Evarts500
Neilson Buchanan250
Sherry Brown*
Jane Holland*
Nancy Peterson100
Craig Viau500
Reed Content250
Brian & Jill Bicknell250
Kerei Yuen500
Victor & Norma Hesterman100
Susan Thomas500
Ellson Family100
Shirley & Marc Feldman200
Kay Sabin*
Tobye Kaye*
Peter & Leanne Giles200
Anna Welke50
Elizabeth Shepard*
Lisa Forssell500
Subutai Ahmad100
Jennie Savage1,000
Shirley Ely1,000
Duane Bay & Barbara Noparstak100
Catherine Dolton100
Mazze-Cohen Family150
Glenn & Lorna Affleck30
In Memory Of

Kathy Morris*
Ray Bacchetti250
Phillip Zschokke50
Robert Spinrad*
Alissa Riper Picker250
Duncan Matteson500
Nate Rosenberg200
Don & Marie Snow100
Bob Kirkwood*
Leonard Ely500
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
Nancy & Bob Lobdell*
Pam Grady350
Barbara E. Schwartz*
Ryan Kamita*
Boyd Paulson*
Thomas W. & Louise L. Phinney*
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach*
Bob Donald*
Fr. John Fitzpatrick C.S.Sp.*
David W. Mitchell400
Ted Linden200
Lee Domenik*
Alan & Tracy*
Er-Ying & Yen-Chen Yen250
Betty Meltzer25
Mary Alyce Pearson*
Kathy Riskin Graham*
Jack Sutorius500
Dr. Elliot W. Eisner200
August L. King*
Brett Remmel & Mark Remmel100
Emmett Lorey*
Phebe Bush*
Bertha Kalson*
Aaron O'Neill*
Ludwig Tannenwald*
Bill Land*
Jim & Dottie Mellberg200
William Preston1,000
Maria Januario40
Al & Mae Kenrick200
Maureen & Jim Missett*
Kathie Underdal*
Loving parents Albert & Beverly Pellizzari*
Our beloved son Samuel Benjamin Kurland*
Harvey Schloss100
Mary Floyd*
Tinney Family250
Carol Berkowitz*
Bob Markevitch*
Kaye Kelley & Richard Van Dusen250
Dr. David Zlotnick200
William Bill Iaculla100
Mark Georgia*
Jeffrey Tuerk*
In Honor Of

Principal Iris Wong*
Normal L. Frazee, 100 years young400
Lucas Milam100
Logan Marsh & Gabby Perez250
Marilyn Sutorius500
Joe Simitian*
Franklin & Edith Cooper100
Lucy Berman's Clients2,500
Betty Gerard100
Businesses/Organizations

Palo Alto Weekly Moonlight Run89,181
Sponsors of Moonlight Run
    Stanford Health Care10,000
    Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati Foundation5,000
    Sutter Health/Palo Alto Medical Foundation5,000
    Stanford Federal Credit Union5,000
    Palantir5,000
    DeLeon Realty5,000
    Wealth Architects5,000
    Facebook5,000
    Kaiser Permanente5,000
    Lakin Spears2,000
    Bank of the West1,000
    A Runner's Mind1,000
Peery Foundation10,000
Arrillaga Foundation 10,000
Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,000
Killiney Kopitiam250
Palo Alto Business Park*
Communications & Power Industries1,000
Bleibler Properties1,000
Silicon Valley Wealth Advisors300
deLemos Properties500
Hewlett Foundation25,000
Packard Foundation25,000