HWS Debate, GHS Students Connect – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

HWS Debate, GHS Students Connect

An ongoing collaboration between the HWS Debate Team and Geneva High School (GHS) students has paid off significantly in recent months with GHS seniors Sebastian Bersani and Prashanta Augustine competing in debate tournaments at the local, state and national levels.

Under the guidance of Associate Professor of Philosophy Eric Barnes, the HWS Debate Team head coach, and HWS Debate Team Assistant Coach Steven Penner, Bersani and Augustine not only have advanced in their abilities and expanded GHS debate opportunities, but also have had a series of personal accomplishments in debate. Recently, Bersani qualified for both the New York State Grand Championship Tournament which will be held in April 2015, and the U.S. National Championships in Florida which will take place in May. This is the first time GHS will be represented at state and national debate tournaments. In addition, Augustine also has been successful at several local competitions.

“Sebastian and Prashanta have been a pleasure to coach this year,” says Penner, an internationally respected judge and debate coach. “They research well, have strong public speaking skills, and think through complex arguments and rebuttals. I’m very impressed with their success this year, and am hopeful for the growth of the program to encompass more students in future years.”

For the past few years, the highly successful HWS Debate Team has been working with Geneva schools to start debate programs in the local school district. Barnes and Penner began meeting the GHS students on a regular basis during the fall 2014 semester. Barnes and Penner have been working to develop the team’s debate skills.

“High school debating is basically the best way to prepare for college level critical thinking, so it’s wonderful that Geneva High School students are starting to do this,” Barnes says. “It is amazing to see them develop so quickly. Successful teams usually take many years to develop, but Sebastian is already winning tournaments and qualifying for the state and national championships. There’s no reason why Geneva High School can’t have one of the best debate teams in the state.”

Initial GHS debate success arrived when Bersani and Augustine returned from a two-week program at the Stanford National Forensic Institute during summer 2012. Heading into their sophomore year in high school, Bersani and Augustine attended the national program and came back with a passion for debate.

“When we got back from Standford, we were so excited about debate that we filled out the paperwork to get approval for our regional circuit registration,” Bersani says.

After talking with school administrators, the two formed the GHS Debate Club and began practicing in English teacher Ryan DeWolfe’s classroom. DeWolfe, who registers the club for tournaments, helped establish their place in the Genesee Valley Forensic League, the debate circuit for Western New York high schools. Soon after, Bersani and Augustine were invited to attend HWS Debate’s weekly sessions and have since practiced with the Colleges’ members and watched tournaments held on campus.

“Debate has taught us a lot: goal-setting, leadership, responsibility, self-confidence and how to simply get things done, to name a few,” Bersani says.

Since kicking off their efforts to expand and promote debate at GHS, Bersani and Augustine also have recruited and mentored classmates to maintain and grow the debate program after this year.

“We have now built up an amazing debate team that will continue long after we graduate,” Augustine says.