10th grader Jenise Alcantara’s road to debate team success was not an easy one. For a long time, public speaking was her biggest fear. Debate team coach and English department head, Mark Fusco first met Jenise in the summer program he manages for rising high schoolers. He was impressed by her writing ability and spirit. Despite her fear, Mr. Fusco saw incredible potential. He told her if she worked at her public speaking, she could be an incredible debater. The more Mr. Fusco encouraged her to debate, the better Jenise became at debating. Now, two years later, Jenise leads the debate team.
After a stellar performance at a citywide debate in Queens, and thanks to the support of the Saltzman Foundation, our Hyde debaters were able to participate in an international debate competition at Harvard University. The topic to be debated was “Resolved: The United States should end its arms sales to Saudi Arabia.”
It was no small undertaking, but for Mr. Fusco and the students, it was worthwhile. Mr. Fusco views debate as the ability to use speaking, reading, and writing skills to passionately convey perspectives. For that reason, debating for Mr. Fusco falls perfectly in line with our core values at Hyde. “At Hyde, we teach kids skills for life,” he said, “other than empathy and a sense of connection to humanity and helping others, which are all huge, the skills that debate teaches you are essential for being successful in life.” At Harvard, the team competed with children from all over the country, as well as schools from the Dominican Republic and China. Although they didn’t win the tournament, they walked feeling like they won in many other ways including experiencing tough competition and being able to visit Harvard! They have also begun to strategize and prepare for next year.
Debating has been life-changing for Jenise. She believes it has made her stronger. It has given her confidence in her convictions and speaking abilities. “Throughout a debate, you have to defend and advocate for yourself and arguments,” she said. Debate has shown Jenise how courageous, smart, and powerful she is. “I took all I’ve learned in debate and translated it into my personal life,” she said. It is through debate that Jenise came to understand she can overcome any obstacle before her.