“It’s their wanting to change the world and fearlessness that makes [my sudents] so interesting to me.” — Susan Marianelli, coach to set the same high bar for all of her students. Debbie believes “students are only limited by their own limitations,” and if you challenge them, they will succeed. This philosophy has proven reliable, as Milton continues to turn out national champions at both the middle and high school level. The success of Milton can also be attributed to their skilled coaches. Debbie received the NSDA’s Middle School Coach of the Year award in 2016—further testament to the team’s prowess that has developed over the last few years.
USING PEER MENTORING Now, with more than 100 students on the middle and high school speech teams, Milton’s coaches are often stretched to give each student individual attention. To make sure each student receives individualized attention, Milton Academy coaches take advantage of peer mentoring to close the resource gap and create learning opportunities for all students, regardless of grade level. Every Wednesday during the overlapping middle school activity and high school lunch periods, students from both teams come together to eat lunch and talk about their speeches. With a ratio of one-to-one, each middle school student is paired with an experienced high school student. During this time, the high schoolers provide constructive feedback to the middle schoolers and give advice on their pieces.
This personalized attention and connection helps students grow in confidence and skill. Patrice explains that the “middle school team is a great training ground for future participants. It allows them to get really good and discover their passion. By the time they get to high school, they’re not only good but also committed.” The middle school students aren’t the only ones who gain something from the Wednesday lunches. Susan sees the lunches as a learning opportunity as well as a chance for both middle and high school students to have fun and create lasting bonds and friendships. For the high schoolers to be able to teach something to another student and laugh with them is uplifting and makes their day. In addition to the Wednesday lunch meetings, before every tournament, Debbie holds a “Speech Party” during which students eat pizza and practice their speeches for one another. This again helps make sure that every student is receiving constructive feedback and is another a way of creating bonds. All of these interactions help create a cohesive community of support for all of the speech team students. When there’s a tournament at which both middle and high school students compete, the teams, while separate, appear as one large unit. All of the students warm up together. High school students pair up with their middle school “buddy” and help them find their rooms, give them
encouragement, and check in on them in between rounds. Milton is fortunate enough to have students from the middle and high school teams attend the National Tournament. During the week of Nationals, both teams try to arrange to stay at the same hotels, and will go and listen to each other’s rounds to show their support. All of these seemingly small gestures create a nurturing environment that helps all of the students prosper. The middle school team is appreciative of the work that the high schoolers put in to help them. At the end of the year, they have another party where the middle schoolers thank their “high school coaches.” With all of the support the middle schoolers receive, many go on to compete in high school. And for those who don’t end up joining the high school team, some still help mentor the middle schoolers as a way of giving back. It is clear that both teams are continuing to build meaningful connections and lasting relationships. By integrating the middle and high school speech teams through peer coaching and other activities, these Massachusetts coaches have created programs that are immensely successful, both competitively and interpersonally. As the Milton Academy website states, “Our active learning environment, in and out of the classroom, develops creative and critical thinkers, unafraid to express their ideas, prepared to seek meaningful lifetime success, and to live by our motto, ‘Dare to be true.’” Their speech teams are certainly a shining example of this mantra. Katie Hines serves as Grants Administrator for Big Questions Debates at the NSDA.
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Volume 91 Issue 4