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Urban Debate League Offers Life Lessons & Inspiration

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An image for a debate (credit: CBS)

An image for a debate (credit: CBS)

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DENVER (CBS4) – This year brought plenty of partisan bickering and debate to Capitol Hill, but in Denver a good round of debating is actually helping students move forward.

About 150 students from 12 schools are part of Denver’s Urban Debate League. The debaters come from struggling schools in some of Denver’s poorest neighborhoods.

“There’ve been kids who’ve literally been livings in hotels or their cars and still make it to debate tournament,” said league founder Rico Munn.

Munn is a partner at Baker Hostetler Law Firm and started the league four years ago with just four schools and 40 students.

“There’ve been kids whose parents are addicted and the kids are essentially raising themselves, and those kids still make it to debate and are successful.”

Vivianna Andaloza is one of those students. She attends York International in Thornton and was failing classes before joining debate. Now she dreams of attending Harvard or Yale.

“I know that I have seriously every force working against me,” she told CBS4’s Shaun Boyd. “But I don’t care. I’m going to get there no matter what it takes.”

She would be the first in her family to attend college and recounts how her parents keep telling her she would make a good hairdresser.

Vivianna, however, has other plans.

“My ultimate dream is to be governor of Colorado, the first woman governor of Colorado,” she said.

Debate offers preparation for lots of careers, inside and outside of politics. It teaches critical thinking, persuasion and analytical skills. It expands vocabulary and world views.

Debate topics focus on all kinds of government policy — topics from renewable energy to space exploration.

“As kids propose policies, ways to solve very real world problems, they have to stay on top of contemporary research,” Munn said. “They have to understand high-level policy and political issues and how they affect the world around them.”

Vivianna knows preparation is key to success in debates.

“You have to go through every file, every website you can think to make sure you have the most recent sources,” she said.

And yes, Vivianna said she believes Washington politicians could learn a thing or two from debate league.

“To think about both sides and make logical arguments, everything has two sides and I think many politicians only see one,” Vivianna said.

What’s not debatable is the success of the program. Studies show students involved in urban debate leagues are 70 percent more likely to graduate from high school and more than 75 percent of them go on to four year colleges.

“We really never think about it as giving to them,” Munn said. “We recognize the public good of each of these kids reaching their full potential.”

Vivianna certainly plans on reaching her full potential and helping other students through the league that has given her so much.

“I want to be able to motivate others like me to get out there and have their voices heard.”

LINK: Urban Debate League

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