As Joselyn Carvalho and Rebecca Francois move to the front of a Suffolk University classroom and open up their final presentation they look out on the lights of Boston Common and the encouraging faces of their peers.
The pair—seasoned debaters who’ve mastered their complex case on domestic violence survivors seeking asylum in the United States—are comfortable, poised, and ready to reflect on the hard work they’ve done this semester. They’re also high school seniors doing college work and earning college credit before they’ve even finished their applications for higher ed admission.
Carvalho and Francois are among a small group of Boston Public School students selected to participate in a unique pilot course taught by a Suffolk University professor and a coach from the Boston Debate League. The course gives the already-skilled varsity debaters additional details on the history and mechanics of debating and how to craft, and counter, a persuasive argument. It’s also an opportunity to try college-level coursework in a university setting.
“When you're inside this building, it's a whole different atmosphere,” says Francois. “You walk around and everybody is just so focused, and it's contagious. It makes you want to do more, it makes you want to be proactive, go out of your way and learn from people.”
The program builds on a strong partnership between Suffolk and Boston Debate League that brings hundreds of Boston Public School students to the University’s campus every year for debate tournaments. The University also hosts the Boston Debate League’s summer teacher training sessions which help Boston educators become debate coaches, and also bring essential elements of the program—such as student leadership development, student collaboration, and a focus on evidence and reasoning—into their classrooms.
“The Boston Debate League is making a real difference in the lives of students in the Boston Public Schools through the power of debate and the critical thinking skills that go along with it,” says Suffolk University President Marisa Kelly. “Suffolk is proud to partner with the Boston Debate League to expand our mentoring abilities through this new program.”
"Through our debate programs, students are using their powerful voices to lead informed and engaging conversations about real-world issues,” says Boston Debate League Executive Director Mike Wasserman. “Our partnership with Suffolk University has been an incredible opportunity to not just prepare students for college, but provide them an opportunity to actually begin their college journey before they even graduate from high school."
This week Carvalho and Francois will graduate as valedictorian and salutatorian of their class at the Henderson Inclusion School in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. They will head off to college in the fall with credits from their course and the confidence they gained in the process.
“Over the two years that I've been in debate I've grown so much as a person. And through this program I've definitely learned that anything is possible. This college career: I'm all ready for it,” says Carvalho.