Before debate, Alief Independent School District Kerr High senior Queen Eche was a competitive force on the soccer field. Upon enrolling in a magnet high school where sports weren’t the focus, the spunky, extroverted senior turned to debate through an afterschool program. Today the Dartmouth-bound, 17-year old insists it’s not just her grades that helped her get recruited into the Ivy League college, but rather her steadfast dedication to debate after the school day. Harris County Department of Education funds debate for inner-city youth through CASE Debates, an afterschool collaboration between HCDE’s Center for Afterschool, Summer and Enrichment for Kids (CASE for Kids) and the Houston Urban Debate League. Tournaments scheduled throughout the year give teens the opportunity to compete locally and nationally. Last year Eche went to nationals, climbing her way up the ranks in Washington, D.C. She was named as one of two top national debaters. CASE Debates offers two debate formats for competition: World Schools Debate and Policy Debate. Eche prefers Policy Debate, honing the pros and cons about an argument throughout the year. In a debate round, she feels empowered by sharing facts, putting ideas forth a mile-a-minute. They are contested by teammates and judges. New arguments are researched, reasoned and put forth. As her team continues to collect awards, she insists it’s not about the winning or losing. “Competition isn’t about hard feelings; it’s about ideas,” she said. While some high school students might shun afterschool opportunities, Eche welcomes the chance to learn new things, especially when it comes to debate.
“Passion strikes out of nowhere,” she said. “You miss all the shots you don’t take, and you’ve got to test new things out.”Parents Peter and Jenifer Eche praise the power of afterschool as they watch the eldest of three children set an example through her activity of choice. They moved to Houston from Singapore and understand the importance of their three daughters venturing into the macrocosm outside their southwest Houston neighborhood. “Without afterschool, kids have a monotonous life,” said her father. “But afterschool helps kids see beyond the academics, and they become unique by finding new talents and even choosing their future.” Mom Jenifer elaborates on the benefits. “Kids spend most of their time in the classroom, but she (Queen) gets to express herself freely within the supervised school space,” she said. “It helps them realize their potential.” Kerr Principal Vinson Lewis traveled to Washington, D.C. with the debate team members last year as they qualified for nationals. Because of financial limitations, many students wouldn’t have the opportunity to leave the four-square miles surrounding the school, he explained. “The opportunity for us to partner with CASE Debates and to have that financial support is remarkable,” Principal Lewis said. Once a hobby, debate is now Eche’s future as she says 80 percent of her life revolves around it as she researches and shares ideas. Next fall she moves to New Hampshire to join the Dartmouth debate team. (For more information about CASE Debates and opportunities in area afterschool: http://www.hcde-texas.org/after-school .) Source: HCDE