There is no debating the young talent at Waltrip High School, at least when it comes to making arguments.
Freshmen Meredith Moreland and Evan Weltin, while making their competitive debuts in high school debate, teamed up to win first place in the public forum category during a virtual Houston Urban Debate League tournament on Jan. 16. They and their Waltrip teammates were subsequently recognized for their performance by State Rep. Penny Morales Shaw, who wrote a congratulatory resolution that was approved by the Texas House of Representatives earlier this month.
The Waltrip debate team has yet to receive a copy of the resolution, according to teacher and coach Marsha Jump, who said she’s been asked to pick out a frame.
“It’s really cool,” Jump said. “There’s been a lot of positive feedback, a lot of positive feedback from my co-workers, congratulating myself and the work I’ve done with the kids.”
Jump is in her second year as the debate teacher and coach at Waltrip, saying she has 25 students in her debate class and seven who compete as an extracurricular activity. Student Alex Barnes also was named in the congratulatory resolution after placing fourth in the congressional debate category.
Waltrip debate team members Pete Chavez, Melody Longoria, Miranda Noonan and Luis Tiburcio were recognized for their contributions as well.
“Waltrip is located in and many of the families live in District 148, so I wanted to make sure that as their state representative, I honored their exceptional achievement,” Shaw said in a text message.
Jump said there are 19 Houston ISD high schools that compete in the Houston Urban Debate League (HUDL), and there were 30-plus teams competing along with Moreland and Weltin in the public forum category. They advanced through the tournament rounds and were named top speakers in their category while arguing about why the National Security Agency should end its surveillance of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, according to Jump.
Jump said high school debate teaches skills that would serve students well in careers such as law or politics, including the ability to research, put presentations together, recognize logical fallacies and think on their feet. She also said it can provide inner-city kids with a voice they might not otherwise have.
“Even the ones that don’t compete are getting an introduction to real-world issues and how the government works, how the economy works, how relations with other countries work,” Jump said. “Even if they’re not actually competing, they’re still getting a glimpse of worldly issues that they wouldn’t get in a normal classroom.”
Jump said she’s “excited” about the prospect of having Moreland and Weltin in her debate program for three more years. She also hopes the statewide recognition provides a boost for a Waltrip program that last qualified for the University Interscholastic League’s state tournament more than a decade ago.
Area middle school students who display a passion and talent for debate have historically gone to HISD high schools with more established programs, Jump said, so she hopes those debate-inclined students will now be encouraged to stick with their neighborhood school.
“It’s great for me, because Frank Black Middle School feeds into us. They have a great program there,” Jump said. “Those kids, when they’re really bitten by the debate bug, they want to go to Bellaire and Lamar and Carnegie (Vanguard) and those schools that are known for debate. So when they hear that Waltrip has a successful squad and is getting recognition, that’s just going to help.”