• A kid standing next to a banner

      Emilio Alban at National Speech and Debate Association Tournament (Photo courtesy of Emilio Alban)

      For the first time last week, PUSD’s Blair High School sent a student to compete at the National Speech and Debate Association’s (NSDA) 99th annual final tournament.

      By News Desk   

      From historical records, no PUSD school has ever sent students to “Nationals.”  Blair’s 2024 entry marks what club members hope will kick start a long legacy of speech and debate education and competition at Blair and PUSD.

      The road may prove long but worthwhile.  Blair boasts the only PUSD team.  A vibrant speech and debate program would yield tremendous benefits for District students.  Numerous studies have shown the impact of speech and debate on test scores, academic outcomes, higher GPAs, higher SAT Math and Evidence-based Reading and Writing exam scores, increased likelihood to meet the College Board’s college readiness benchmarks, admission to top universities, higher student confidence and self-esteem, increased engagement in the classroom, and increased likelihood to graduate.

      When 17 year-old Emilio Stuart-Alban launched an official team at Blair in 2023, he never expected the team to take off as it has.  “I had the opportunity to participate in the all-district production of Into the Woods last fall.  I was inspired by the deep level of talent and determination I saw from everyone in the production.  That got me thinking about other ways that I could help break ground on new avenues to achieve success and enrich student experiences.  Speech and debate seemed like the natural answer.”

      The Blair Club faced a daunting task in the Spring of 2023 with no resources to go up against long-established teams with deeply experienced coaches and abundant resources.  Blair’s Club has marched on through relentless dedication, discipline, and hard work from its members, as well as help from parent volunteers for donations and coaching.

      Blair Club members have participated in more than a dozen tournaments since formation, homing in research, public speaking, and analytical skills through countless hours of effort.  At a qualifying tournament in March, Emilio and his debate partner Nathan Lin (Blair Class of 2026) narrowly missed a spot at Nationals in a form of debate called Public Forum, debating whether or not colleges should treat their student athletes as employees.  After that qualifier, the chair of the East Los Angeles District for Nationals invited Emilio to join one of two five-person teams to represent the District in Des Moines in a form of debate called “World Schools,” due to its international popularity.

      a group of students posing for camera

      The team at National Speech and Debate Association Tournament (Photo courtesy of the Alban family)

      East LA students from multiple area schools worked hard over two months to prepare to spar with some of the world’s top debaters.  Emilio’s team thrived, going 4-2 in preliminary rounds.  It reached the second round of elimination (octafinals) before a narrow loss to a team from Taiwan that specializes in the World Schools format.

      “I’ll say that I did feel slightly lonely at times; it was hard to be the only person from my school as compared to better-resourced schools with 10-15 competitors,” explains Emilio.  “But I tried to focus on the long run vision of more and more Blair and PUSD students competing at Nationals.  I had the exposure to help me ensure as Club president that I’m providing the best, most educational, and most fun experience to the other Blair debaters with that goal in mind.”

      Emilio also recognizes the reality of the situation as a rotating student member of the PUSD Board of Education.  “Blair and PUSD are starved for resources, and I know the District cannot easily allocate money to a voluntary new initiative like speech and debate.  The District’s financial situation is worsening.  But, that’s not to say that the situation is hopeless.  If we can build a system where students across PUSD have access to fruitful, exciting competition that local private citizens and businesses can help us fund, our whole District could have a thriving speech and debate program.  There’s no reason why we can’t have the kind of flourishing programs that San Marino has, that South Pasadena has, that Arcadia has, and that private schools around the area have.  I’m really motivated to make that happen in any way I can.  After all, if you build it, they will come.”

      If you would like to donate to support Blair’s speech and debate program and the growth of speech and debate across PUSD through the Pasadena Educational Foundation, follow this link.

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