A Community of Lifelong Learners

Refresh page when toggling 'compose' mode on and off to edit.

Recommended Image Size: 1440px wide by 600px tall
(this text will not display with 'compose' mode off or on live site)

Faculty & Staff Stories in Fine Print, the Magazine of Rowland Hall

Rowland Hall's 2021–2022 debate team after winning their second consecutive 3A state championship.

For this year’s debate team, there may be one thing that feels better than claiming Rowland Hall’s second consecutive region and state titles.

Doing it in person.

After two years of online-only competition, debaters from across the state were able to gather in person once again for the 2022 regional and state tournaments. After numerous Zoom-room competitions, said Mike Shackelford, Rowland Hall debate coach, these in-person gatherings were a welcome change.

"A return to in-person debate was rejuvenating,” said Mike. “Sure, it meant more planning and earlier mornings—but it also meant pep talks and motivational speeches, real-time collaboration, bonding and playing together between rounds, and supporting one another by watching final rounds as a group. It allowed our students to be truly seen and heard by their opponents, judges, and their teammates." And it was especially exciting for the team members who hadn’t yet experienced in-person debate events. “They didn't even know what they were missing,” said Mike.

Sophomore Zac Bahna was one of these students: he experienced his first year of competition—where he placed third in Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking at state—on Zoom, and now understands the contrast between the two settings.

We were able to foster an environment in which everyone was willing to help each other out and push each other to succeed.—Zac Bahna, class of 2024

“The in-person experience is a lot different but more fun,” said Zac, who, with fellow sophomore and partner Harris Matheson, took third place in this year’s Public Forum event. “You get to talk to debaters from other schools and hang out with your teammates between rounds. Although last year’s debate season was still a great experience, the team felt more isolated and disconnected when we were all debating from our own homes. The state tournament was one of the first times that I could really feel the good energy of a team environment.”

That energy makes a difference for Rowland Hall not only because the team plays up a division into the 3A classification, pitting them against larger schools, but also because they had to spend a lot of time preparing for individual speech events—an area they don't practice during the regular season—to be competitive.

“It was so awesome to see so many Rowland Hall debaters come together and push themselves to compete in different events than they normally would and work together to achieve a common goal,” said Zac. “We were able to foster an environment in which everyone was willing to help each other out and push each other to succeed.”

As a result, the team walked away from the state tournament with their second consecutive 3A state title (their total score, 108, was 33 points higher than the second-place team) and an impressive list of performances:

  • Senior Samantha Lehman took first place in National Extemporaneous Speaking, an event in which debaters are given a domestic affairs question and have 30 minutes to research, write, and deliver seven-minute speeches.
  • Senior teammates Ella Houden and Kit Stevens took first place in Public Forum, an event that includes short speeches interspersed with three-minute crossfire sections, on the topic of the pros and cons of organic agriculture. Senior Samantha Lehman and junior Micah Sheinberg as well as sophomores Zac Bahna and Harris Matheson closed out the top three spots, giving them a co-championship.
  • Junior Layla Hijjawi and sophomore Joey Lieskovan took first place in Policy, an event in which teams advocate for or against a policy change resolution, for their take on the best proposals for water resource protection. Juniors Ruchi Agarwal and Julia Summerfield also went undefeated in this event, giving them the co-championship, while senior George Drakos and sophomore Gabe Andrus, as well as sophomores Marina Peng and Logan Fang, tied for third place—a clean sweep of the top four spots! (Learn more about how debaters across the state, including Rowland Hall students, prepared for this topic in The Salt Lake Tribune.)
  • Freshman Aiden Gandhi took fifth place in Lincoln-Douglas, a solo debate event, for his speech on journalistic ethics.
  • Junior Zachary Klein took third place in Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking, an event in which debaters are given a foreign affairs question and have 30 minutes to research, write, and deliver seven-minute speeches.
  • Freshman Andrew Murphy took fifth place in Student Congress, a competition in which students lead and participate in a simulation where they debate different pieces of national legislation.
  • Junior Micah Sheinberg took fourth place in Impromptu Speaking, an event in which debaters are required to prepare and deliver speeches on a random topic, with only one to two minutes to prepare.

Samantha Lehman also made school history by being the first Rowland Hall student to win an individual state championship in three different debate events over her high school career. The senior said the accomplishment showed her that she can successfully debate on both national and state levels—and reminded her of what she’s learned over four years.

Debate has made me more confident in my voice.—Samantha Lehman, class of 2022

“Debate has made me a more confident person,” said Samantha. “I’ve always been willing to put myself out there, but debate has made me more confident in my voice, in my ability to convey ideas. I know how to speak to a specific audience, to use my research skills and cater arguments to different groups. I know how to speak efficiently and clearly, in a way that’s not pedantic. I know more about the world: criminal justice issues, arms sales, international relations, water, climate change—subjects you would never find out just in school and reading the news.”

This perspective was echoed by ninth grader Aiden Gandhi, who emerged as a team phenom in his novice season, taking fifth place in Lincoln-Douglas at his first state tournament.

“The season allowed me to grow and learn about topics and ideas that I never would have explored otherwise,” said Aiden. And though he is thrilled about the accomplishments of this year, he’s even more excited about his personal growth. “I think I am most proud of achieving the growth that I did this year in debate. It means that I will be better equipped for next year and future debates.”

It’s this kind of attitude, found across the team, that promises continued excellence for Rowland Hall Debate. Even after graduation, said Samantha, she’ll be keeping an eye on the team—she’s that excited about what lies ahead. Zac and Aiden, also looking forward to what's in the team’s future, have already promised to contribute to ongoing success by challenging themselves and their teammates, cultivating a positive and fun environment, and building community.

“I am excited for the opportunity that next year's season brings to connect, grow, and improve,” said Aiden.

Debate

Members of the Rowland Hall 2020–2021 debate team, 3A State Champions.

Despite its pandemic-related challenges, 2020–2021 was a banner year for the Rowland Hall debate team, which embraced the sport's virtual format to excel in both individual and team events—including the state tournament, where they won the title of 3A Speech & Debate Champions for the first time in the school’s history.

“It's been a historically challenging year for all schools, but we turned it into a historically successful one,” said coach Mike Shackelford.

Rowland Hall competed virtually in more than 40 local and national events in 2020–2021—more than double the events in a non-pandemic year—including the Utah Debate Coaches Association tournament, the most prestigious local regular-season tournament, in November, where the team won the sweepstakes award for the top school, and the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) state tournament in March, where the team won the championship title.

Debating at the state tournament was a great opportunity to bond as a team after a year of separation, and winning the championship wouldn't have been possible without the dedication from each member.—Emery Bahna, class of 2022

Earning the state trophy is an especially impressive feat for Rowland Hall, a small school that plays up one classification level and has, in previous years, been unable to assemble a large enough team to be in the running for the state title, due to tournament timing, travel, and other event-related challenges. Team size matters at state because while all students compete for individual titles, their performances also count toward a school’s overall score: students who place in the top 25 percent of an event earn their schools five points (a “Superior” rating), and points descend until the bottom 25 percent, which earns no points. While Rowland Hall has long won individual championships, its previous rosters of 12 to 15 students meant the team had to take zeros in categories they didn't enter. Thanks to this year’s virtual format, however, which made it easier to participate, they could finally set their sights on the championship.
 
“The whole team came together to conduct research, participate in practice debates, and share information about our opponents,” said junior Emery Bahna, who, with junior Mahit Dagar, took first place in the UHSAA Public Forum event. “Debating at the state tournament was a great opportunity to bond as a team after a year of separation, and winning the championship wouldn't have been possible without the dedication from each member.”
 
Mike agreed, noting that he views that dedication as the students’ way to balance a year in which they were unable to enjoy normal aspects of debate, like socials, bus rides, and even being in the same room during final rounds to root for each other. “There was a real commitment to achieve something collectively,” he said.
 
This they did, together earning a final tournament score of 122 points. Second-place school Providence Hall, the 2020 state champion, finished with 74 points.
 
“We nearly lapped the field,” said Mike. “The state championship reflected our collective desire and commitment to be a part of something larger than ourselves. Winning state was a product of 25 students rallying for a cause, and each doing their part.”

Rowland Hall 2020–2021 debate team, 2021 Utah 3A State Champions.


Below are the top individual championship performances at the UHSAA tournament, which contributed to the state title:

  • Seniors Sophie Dau and Maddy Frech took first place in Policy, an event in which teams advocate for or against a policy change resolution, for their proposal for criminal justice reform. Three other teams—seniors Auden Bown and Ty Lunde, sophomores Zachary Klein and Micah Sheinberg, and sophomores Ruchi Agarwal and Layla Hijjawi—went undefeated in Policy, giving them a co-championship.
  • Sophomore Ane Hernandez took first place in the Impromptu Speaking event, which requires debaters to prepare and deliver five-minute speeches on random topics, with only one to two minutes of preparation. Sophomores Anna Hull and Maile Fukushima were also finalists in this event, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.
  • Junior Samantha Lehman finished in first place in National Extemporaneous Speaking, an event in which debaters are given a domestic affairs question and have 30 minutes to research, write, and deliver seven-minute speeches.
  • Juniors Emery Bahna and Mahit Dagar took first place in Public Forum, an event that includes short speeches interspersed with three-minute crossfire sections, on the topic of the pros and cons of the Space Force; this dynamic duo also qualified to the national Tournament of Champions and will compete at the National Speech & Debate Tournament in June. Senior Hattie Wall and junior Julia Graham, as well as juniors Ella Houden and Kit Stevens, closed out the top three spots, giving them a co-championship. Juniors Casey Maloy and Lizzie Carlin finished fifth.  
  • Sophomore Maddie Carlin took second place in Student Congress, a competition in which students lead and participate in a simulation where they debate different pieces of national legislation.
  • Freshman Zac Bahna took third place in Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking, an event in which debaters are given a foreign affairs question and have 30 minutes to research, write, and deliver seven-minute speeches.
  • Freshman Marina Peng took fifth place in Lincoln-Douglas, a solo debate event in which she spoke on the ethical necessity of universal child care.

Congratulations, debaters, on an impressive year!


Update October 29, 2021: This month, debate coach Mike Shakelford received a letter from J. Scott Wunn, executive director of the National Speech & Debate Association, notifying him that Rowland Hall earned the 2020–2021 Leading Chapter Award in the Great Salt Lake (UT) District. Out of 3,000 member schools nationwide, Rowland Hall is one of only 108 to receive this award.

"This coveted honor, based on student participation throughout the school year, is the highest recognition your school can receive from the National Speech & Debate Association. Only the top school in accumulated members and degrees per district earns this designation each year, and each school must wait at least five years before being eligible again," the letter read. "Your award reflects 725 members and degrees over 10 years. In that time, several hundred students have been taught communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration skills through speech and debate. The Leading Chapter Award serves as an indication of your relentless dedication to these students and to speech and debate education. Your efforts truly embody our mission to empower youth."

For Coach Mike and his students, this award is indeed the cherry on top of a fantastic season—as well as a powerful example of why our debate program has been recognized as one of the strongest in the Intermountain West.

"This is a special award because it reflects sustained excellence, longevity, and collective effort," said Mike. "Unlike many individual tournament achievements, this award recognizes the contributions of every single debater at Rowland Hall over the last five years. Every practice speech, every article researched, every creative argument idea; it all adds up!"

Debate

Junior Remy Mickelson presenting Deliberate Dialogue skills during an advisory class.

2020 may well be remembered as the year of overwhelming stress, and research shows that it’s not only adults feeling the pressure—students feel it, too, and it plays a big role in how they learn.

Schools have long known that they play a critical role in supporting students’ mental well-being. Even before 2020, a heightened understanding of how mental health initiatives contribute to students’ welfare and their ability to learn shifted curriculum and priorities at Rowland Hall. Today, a strong social-emotional learning (SEL) thread runs through all school divisions, and a variety of resources that support students’ mental well-being—from trained counselors, to grade-level advisories, to SEL-based curriculum—are in place. Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund explained that the shift toward this support structure began in 2010, as educators across the country began to better understand how an overly anxious mind affects learning.

You're not learning if your brain is engaged in worry and stress—learning is a higher-order thinking skill.—Ryan Hoglund, director of ethical education

“You're not learning if your brain is engaged in worry and stress—learning is a higher-order thinking skill,” Ryan said. “We knew we needed to focus on the whole child, giving them tools to free their cognitive load so they can give greater attention to learning and social connections.”

Upper School Social-Emotional Support Counselor Dr. Mindy Vanderloo said that a good way to think about this approach is to remember the phrase “Maslow before Bloom,” which underscores the theory that human beings must have their basic needs met before they can take on higher-level desires or thinking.

“If you don't have your basic needs—home, security, food, mental health—then you can't do those things that are higher up on hierarchy,” said Mindy. “Research has demonstrated the relationship between academics and mental health. We understand the importance of identifying and treating mental health problems; we also know that incorporating SEL can improve mental health.”

And while this is true in any academic year, it has become even more important in 2020, when heightened anxiety around issues including COVID-19, the election, and social unrest can further impact students’ mental well-being—which was already concerning mental health professionals. Mindy pointed to American Psychological Association research released in 2019 that found that the percentage of young Americans experiencing certain types of mental health disorders—serious psychological distress, major depression, or suicidal thoughts—has risen significantly over the past decade. Though there isn’t a clear cause why, she said, issues like social media, political divisiveness, and climate change may play a role.

“Mental health disorders have increased over time, and there isn't a known cause,” Mindy explained. “Prevalence rates are going up—and it could be we feel more comfortable talking about it now, and so we notice it more—but there is something categorically different that has changed over generations. Schools, appropriately, have responded and said, ‘This is a bigger problem than it used to be, for whatever reason, and we need to address it.’”


Resources that support students’ mental well-being are available in all Rowland Hall divisions, starting in the beginning and lower schools, where a supportive SEL foundation is first established. Guided by Emotional Support Counselor Chuck White, Rowland Hall’s preschool- and elementary-aged students begin building their social-emotional skills through programs like Second Step and Responsive Classroom. Faculty and staff also cultivate strong partnerships with caregivers during these years, providing resources that advise adults on how to talk to young learners about issues such as COVID-19 and social unrest or the election, as well as how to have healthy conversations around topics such as race.

As students move to the Middle School on the Lincoln Street Campus—and begin a phase of life known for a great deal of change—educators take even more action to help them understand and manage their own mental wellness.

“It's important to remember that in middle school brains are changing at a high rate,” said Middle School Social-Emotional Support Counselor Leslie Czerwinski. “Then on top of brain changes, hormones start to change.”

Middle schoolers on the Lincoln Street Campus.

The middle school years are an ideal time to practice health coping strategies.

At the same time, students are learning to navigate the world in new ways, with an increase in online time—including, for many, access to social media, which can add new layers of pressure, such as the need to present perfection. It is therefore important to help these students find healthy coping strategies that they can practice in Middle School and carry into their Upper School years, and beyond.

That notion of productive struggle is that if I'm not stressed, I'm not learning; if I'm overstressed, I'm not learning. What we really want to find is that yellow zone where I'm challenged. I've always used this canoe analogy: I want you to rock your canoe, but I don't want your canoe flipping.—Ryan Hoglund

“The goal is not zero stress; that's really important to emphasize,” said Ryan. “Stress is normal—it drives us to deadlines that keep us accountable. But how do you keep it productive?” To do this, he said, Rowland Hall focuses on productive struggle, also known as the zone of proximal development, a sweet spot for each learner where the student has found balance between being too comfortable and too overwhelmed.

“That notion of productive struggle is that if I'm not stressed, I'm not learning; if I'm overstressed, I'm not learning. What we really want to find is that yellow zone where I'm challenged,” said Ryan. “I've always used this canoe analogy: I want you to rock your canoe, but I don't want your canoe flipping.”

Productive struggle not only prepares students to build resilience and succeed under the pressures of life, but to learn how to head off more serious issues, like chronic anxiety, that can develop under too much stress. In the middle and upper schools, this skill is purposefully encouraged by faculty and staff in classroom conversations as well as in advisory, a program designed to help build community and promote student wellness. Advisory now plays a major role in the Rowland Hall experience—one that is so important that sixth graders’ placement into their advisory groups is a thoughtful process handled by the middle and upper school counselors, principals, and assistant principals, who understand that identifying the best advisor for each student can lead to strong relationships that support mental well-being throughout their years on the Lincoln Street Campus. This is necessary, Mindy noted, because research shows that one of the biggest ways to protect students against mental health problems is to give them access to consistent, healthy adult mentors.

“Individual connections to supportive adults is one of the best things we can provide for students as a school,” she said.


Healthy adult role models also help students discover their own leadership capabilities. During their time at Rowland Hall—particularly as they move from sixth to twelfth grade—students are given more autonomy and ownership of their learning and self-governance, which builds their confidence.

During their time at Rowland Hall students are given more autonomy and ownership of their learning and self-governance, which builds their confidence. This includes giving students opportunities to support their own and others’ mental well-being by letting them lead critical conversations, make essential connections, and even help to develop curriculum.

“In the Upper School, what we want to do is build self-efficacy and empower students to take care of themselves. They've learned skills in advisory through informal discussions with teachers—and so how do they take the next step?” Mindy said. “We shift from a focus on adults teaching students to what students can teach each other and take into their own hands.”

This includes giving students opportunities to support their own and others’ mental well-being by letting them lead critical conversations, make essential connections, and even help to develop curriculum. In support of this goal, in 2019 Mindy created a student group called the Mental Health Educators, whose mission is to help build awareness of and combat stigma around mental health issues. Since its founding, Mental Health Educators has played a vital role in normalizing mental health discussions on the Lincoln Street Campus—members address peers at chapels and morning meetings, and they build long-term relationships with students through advisory groups, where they lead discussions around topics like stress and anxiety, as well as offer tips on areas like healthy coping mechanisms.

“The school’s been doing a good job trying to reduce stigma around mental health,” said Samantha Lehman, a Rowland Hall junior and Mental Health Educator. “The Mental Health Educators are working to improve mental health resources, and I think we’ve already seen a lot of improvements and a lot of good feedback from the student body.”

Two students presenting Deliberate Dialogue skills in an advisory class.

Mental Health Educators Max Eatchel and Amanda Green presenting Deliberate Dialogue in October.

They’re also continuously finding new ways to bring their mental health training to their peers. For example, Samantha used some of the topics the group discussed—like motivation, relationships, and the importance of mental breaks—to create Instagram challenges that engaged and connected students during the long weeks of quarantine this spring. Senior Mena Zendejas-Portugal applies her mental health knowledge to her work as a member of the student Justice, Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion Committee. And this fall, the entire Mental Health Educators group partnered with Dr. Carolyn Hickman, English Department chair, and Mike Shackelford, political science teacher and debate coach, to present Deliberate Dialogue, an initiative Carolyn and Mike designed to help reduce student stress during a contentious election season by giving them opportunities to practice civil discourse. Over two weeks in October, the Mental Health Educators taught the five skills of Deliberate Dialogue—open-mindedness, speaking, listening, responding, and reflecting—to all students in grades nine through eleven, as well as helped them practice constructive conversation techniques, which center around exchanging perspectives openly, challenging viewpoints respectfully, and building empathetic understanding. Samantha said the initiative fits in well with the Mental Health Educators mission “because you’re coming to the conversation seeking to understand, seeking to listen.”

We are making meaning, we are creating purpose, and those are the things that are going to help prevent us from being completely demoralized by stressors such as COVID.—Dr. Mindy Vanderloo, Upper School social-emotional support counselor

Mena added, “Once you learn how to have Deliberate Dialogue in your everyday life, that really helps you better your mental health and your relationships. The conversation turns toward building bridges and relationships, which then translates into how you perceive yourself and others.”

And this is a big deal, said Mindy, because by taking action to fight the stressors that affect their well-being—like a divisive election within a global pandemic—students feel a sense of purpose amid chaos.

“We are making meaning, we are creating purpose, and those are the things that are going to help prevent us from being completely demoralized by stressors such as COVID,” said Mindy. “If you can take a difficult or tragic event, take action, and decide to make change, it is so good for not only your mental health, but other people's mental health.”

Mena agreed. “You see students confront problems in such an elevated manner—they’re incorporating all these skills we’ve taught them, and they’re able to relieve themselves of so much stress,” she said. “It makes you feel a sense of joy and pride, not only in yourself, but in your community and in those students.”


Banner photo: Junior Remy Mickelson presenting Deliberate Dialogue skills during an advisory class.

Academics

Sophie Dau and Maddy Frech hold their Young Lawyers trophy while following social-distancing rules.

As the world of virtual debate has expanded this fall following a late-spring start, national tournaments have grown even more competitive than in pre-pandemic years; students far and wide can simply log on instead of hop a bus or plane to participate. And still, Rowland Hall students have thrived in these new conditions, with twice as many opportunities to compete, hone their skills, and accrue top accolades.

“Debate is as competitive as ever,” coach Mike Shackelford said. “Rowland Hall competed at 17 tournaments this fall, from New York to Los Angeles, local and national, occasionally at the same time.” Normally, that number is about half as high. On the weekend of November 6, for instance, Winged Lions competed in three different tournaments. One was the Utah Debate Coaches Association (UDCA) tournament—the most prestigious local regular-season tournament—where the team had its best showing of the fall. Rowland Hall won the sweepstakes award for the top school thanks to students’ impressive results:

  • Senior Calvin Barbanell won the varsity big questions championship.
  • Seniors Sophie Dau and Maddy Frech won the varsity policy championship.
  • Seniors Augie Bown and Ty Lunde placed second in varsity policy.
  • Juniors Lizzie Carlin and Casey Maloy placed second in varsity public forum.
  • Sophomores Layla Hijjawi and Aileen Robles placed first in JV policy.
  • Sophomore Iman Ellahie and freshman Regan Hodson placed first in novice public forum.
  • Casey, Iman, Layla, and Ty earned top speaker recognition for their events.

Calvin is a brilliant mathematician, he loves philosophy, and is a senior on the debate team. Everything lined up for his first career championship.—Debate Coach Mike Shackelford

UDCA marked Sophie and Maddy's second-straight tournament championship, following their October win at the Rowland Hall-hosted Young Lawyers tournament. It also marked Rowland Hall’s first foray into the newer big questions event, which started in 2016 and entails debating resolutions at the intersection of science and philosophy. This year’s topic: "Resolved: Mathematics was discovered, not invented.” It’s a fortuitous premise for senior Calvin—an accelerated math student who, for instance, took AP Calculus BC as a freshman.

“Calvin is a brilliant mathematician, he loves philosophy, and is a senior on the debate team,” Mike said. “Everything lined up for his first career championship.”

In addition to JV and varsity successes, Mike said our sharp underclassmen bode well for future years. “The program has possibly the most impressive freshman class I've ever coached,” Mike said. “Strong in all events, dominant locally, recognized nationally, and so resilient.” One of those speakers is freshman Logan Fang, who on November 7 earned an iPad for being the top speaker in novice policy at the Damus Hollywood Invitational. Logan said he was dumbfounded but pleased with his win: “I strive to make every round better than the last so it's exciting to see progress towards becoming a polished speaker.” And it’s probably due to close bonds, he explained, that freshmen are excelling. “We're all friends outside of debate so we're able to give each other advice on a more personal level,” Logan said. “We all push each other to be better.”

Juniors Samantha Lehman, George Drakos, and Emery Bahna have also earned national recognition lately. Emery, for one, said one of her biggest accomplishments this fall was being named third-best speaker out of 300 competitors in varsity public forum at Grapevine Classic, a national tournament.

I’m unbelievably proud of the Rowland Hall debate team for adapting to these unforeseen circumstances, and I can’t wait to continue a successful season!—Junior Emery Bahna

Naturally, debaters like Emery and sophomore Aileen Robles miss in-person events and the related social perks such as team dinners, hotel overnights, and mingling with students from other schools. But in all likelihood, students who are able to take advantage of this virtual forum will have an edge when in-person events return: “We gain all kinds of experience,” Aileen said, as the sheer number of events that she and her classmates can attend is much higher this year.

Both Aileen and Emery expressed gratitude for people like their coach who have been working diligently to launch virtual editions of beloved competitions. “Being able to continue interacting with members of the debate community has been extremely important this year, especially given the crazy state of the world,” Emery said. “I’m unbelievably proud of the Rowland Hall debate team for adapting to these unforeseen circumstances, and I can’t wait to continue a successful season!”


Top: Seniors Sophie Dau and Maddy Frech celebrate victory at arm's length, showcasing their Young Lawyers varsity policy trophy while following Rowland Hall's physical-distancing rules.

debate

Debate Season Ends with Seniors’ Top-15 Finish at Virtual TOC, More National Qualifiers Than Any Other School, and a State Title

In the words of Rowland Hall debate coach Mike Shackelford, debate finds a way.

COVID-19 led school campuses across the country to shutter about a month before the April 17–20 Tournament of Champions (TOC), debate’s most prestigious national competition. But like so many annual events, TOC went virtual for the first time, pitting the country’s best young debaters against each other—Zoom style.

Seniors Steven Doctorman and Adrian Gushin (pictured above) finished 14th nationally in policy debate—a praiseworthy end to their careers considering it’s a feat to even qualify for the TOC. Adrian was also recognized as the tournament's 10th-best speaker—a special accomplishment for the senior, his coach said. Watch their final round below.

Steven and Adrian were naturally disappointed when the in-person TOC was cancelled, Mike explained, but they weren’t intimidated by the ensuing challenges. The duo was fortunate enough to have the time and resources to upgrade their technology, research new arguments, and practice online debate for weeks leading up to the TOC.

Trying to convince a judge or channel ethos was a difficult task over Zoom … It was fantastic to lead the charge for innovating new forms of argumentation.—Senior Steven Doctorman

“Online debate is twice as draining because it's still the same intensity, but with far more screen time,” Mike said, summarizing his team’s sentiments. 

Plus, debate is an inherently social activity, Steven explained, from “sneaking conversations in the hallway” to the competition itself. “Trying to convince a judge or channel ethos was a difficult task over Zoom because we weren’t physically in the room with them,” he said. Still, online debate may be a larger feature for future tournaments—Mike suspects the TOC will be a model for fall competitions—“so it was fantastic to lead the charge for innovating new forms of argumentation or strategies,” Steven said.

The duo’s adaptability and hard work paid off with a top-15 finish, which is approximately where they've ranked all year, Mike said. “They lost on a 2–1 decision in their last round, so it was a nail-biter the whole time, but they are in a good space in how they finished their careers. Some inspirational moments, some frustrating times, countless academic arguments … In the end it was a ‘regular’ debate tournament!”

Steven echoed his coach’s positivity. “The TOC, whether online or in person, serves as the culmination of four years of dedication and hard work, so it’s fantastic to see our hard work finally pay off,” the senior said. “Our final debate was one of the best of my career and was ultimately a satisfying end despite the loss. We couldn’t have done it without Mikee’s fantastic coaching and consistent support from our team throughout the season.”

Going digital didn’t dull Winged Lion team spirit: throughout the TOC, several teammates encouraged Steven and Adrian by watching their rounds and giving them feedback, Mike added. “It was a rallying point for the program.”

Indeed, going digital didn’t dull team spirit: throughout the TOC, several teammates encouraged Steven and Adrian by watching their rounds and giving them feedback, Mike added. “It was a rallying point for the program.”

Pre-TOC triumphs also contributed to yet another successful debate season. For one, juniors Sophie Dau and Auden Bown took home the state title in policy debate for the 3A classification, the only group to finish their state tournament prior to COVID-19 closures. And at the national qualifying tournament, senior Zoey Sheinberg and sophomore Emery Bahna qualified in public forum debate, and sophomores Samantha Lehman and George Drakos qualified in policy debate. Plus, earlier this year, the already decorated Mike won Speech Educator of the Year for Utah.

The 3A state tournament, the national qualifying tournament, and the TOC represent the trifecta of the postseason, according to Mike. “It was incredible to have consistent excellence from different students,” the proud coach said. Whether fall competitions happen in person or online, we know that excellence will endure under the expert guidance of coach Mikee.

Debate

teacher talking to students in class

The Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) recently named debate teacher Mike Shackelford the 2019 Speech Educator of the Year—a Distinguished Service Award given primarily for Mike’s work strengthening debate programs not just here at Rowland Hall, but across Utah.

I'm grateful that my job allows me the opportunity to get involved in the larger debate community and make a difference for more kids in the state.—Debate Coach Mike Shackelford

“I'm grateful that my job allows me the opportunity to get involved in the larger debate community and make a difference for more kids in the state,” Mike said. “My mentors—Ryan Hoglund, especially—taught me the importance of giving back early in my career.” Ryan, our former debate coach and current director of ethical education, won this service award in 2007. 

Mike explained that school activities like debate depend on countless acts of service, from volunteer judges to late-night transportation and beyond. “Everyone is working so hard that it seems selfish not to do my part,” he said. “I also love matching the passion and work ethic that my students put into the activity.”

Match, he has. Since he joined Rowland Hall in 2007, Mike has taken on an array of leadership roles and accumulated several prestigious awards:

  • Utah Debate Coaches Association (UDCA) Chair of the Elementary and Middle School Division (2017–present)
  • UDCA Chair of the Novice Policy Committee (2016–present)
  • National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) State Educator of the Year for Utah (2017–2018)
  • NSDA National District Chair of the Year (2016)
  • UDCA Policy Debate Coach of the Year (2014)
  • National Debate Coaches Association Executive Board (2013–2015)
  • NSDA Chair of the Great Salt Lake District (2011–2016)
  • UHSAA Speech and Debate Representative (2009–2015)

Rowland Hall Athletics Director Kendra Tomsic nominated Mike for the award and confirmed his dedication to debate. “Mike’s classes are full of enthusiastic debaters who feed off his energy and knowledge,” Kendra wrote in her recommendation letter. “He loves working with students in a competitive environment and it shows.”

For the Shackelfords, debate—and the friendly competition thereof—is a way of life: Mike's wife, Carol, won this award six years ago while coaching for Bingham High School. "Now I'm even with her, which feels great," Mike joked.

Mike is the eighth Rowland Hall employee to receive one of these awards.

The UHSAA started their Distinguished Service Awards program in 1987 to honor individuals for their contributions to high school activities. Mike is one of 17 Utahns to be honored this year, and he’s the eighth Rowland Hall employee on record to receive one of these awards. View a list of past recipients in our article on band director and music teacher Dr. Bret Jackson, UHSAA’s 2018 Music Educator of the Year.

Debate

Ben Amiel 2019 Outstanding Young Volunteer

 

Rowland Hall is thrilled to announce that senior Ben Amiel was honored as the 2019 Outstanding Young Volunteer at the Utah Philanthropy Day luncheon on November 19. This annual award goes to one role model who’s under age 30 and demonstrates exceptional and sustained commitment to philanthropy and volunteerism in the community.

Ben’s nomination was spearheaded by Jewish Family Service (JFS), where he began volunteering in the food pantry at age 13 for his bar mitzvah project. Ben still serves in the food pantry today, and over the years has taken on more responsibility: in fall 2017, when JFS received a grant to enlarge the pantry, Ben helped reorganize the space. In 2018, he ran an iPod drive and fundraiser for Music and Memory, a program for people suffering from Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

It is a rarity to come upon such a young person with such an interest in responding to the varied needs of our clients.—Jewish Family Service

“Ben brings a kind, calming presence to the agency,” the JFS team wrote in their nomination letter. “He seems to recognize the value in each person, and also in what we do to support them.” And his work makes a difference—his dedication to Music and Memory, for instance, resulted in the most successful donation drive in JFS history.

“Ben’s willingness to commit to JFS, adapting and finding additional ways to support and further our work is exceptional,” the team said. “It is a rarity to come upon such a young person with such an interest in responding to the varied needs of our clients. Many of our volunteers opt in for a short time, often fulfilling a goal or project, or doing something they think will look good on a resume. Ben is a committed volunteer.”

His demonstrated devotion to JFS helped set Ben apart from other nominees in the Outstanding Young Volunteer category. “What’s superlative about Ben is his tremendous, and ongoing, commitment to JFS,” said Utah Philanthropy Day committee member Jessie Foster Strike. “Each year, Ben has found new ways to deepen his contributions to the organization, which has allowed JFS to deepen its service to the community. Whether he’s stocking shelves in the food pantry, organizing a fundraiser, or educating himself on a new program, he sees an opportunity, steps up, and take the initiative to help.”

Ben Amiel at the Jewish Family Service food pantry.

Ben Amiel working in Jewish Family Service's food pantry. Photo courtesy Darcy Amiel.

Ben’s dedication to JFS, on top of his rigorous academic and extracurricular load, would be impressive on its own. But he has also chosen to dedicate much of his time to serving fellow students at Rowland Hall, where he’s attended school since third grade.

“Over the years, I have seen the development of a truly sincere mentor of younger students and a hardworking individual who values and contributes to his community,” wrote Rowland Hall’s Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund in one of the letters that the school contributed to the JFS nomination.

Ben’s commitment to leadership and service at Rowland Hall is best illustrated by his involvement with the school’s debate program. A successful debater himself (he’s an Academic All-American, a National Qualifier, and has won awards at tournaments all over the state and country), Ben has mentored Middle School debate students since his freshman year, happily giving his limited free time to tasks like helping students hone their research and argumentation skills and judging tournaments.

“Debate is Ben's life and he's naturally drawn to opportunities that let him showcase his experience and wisdom,” said debate coach Mike Shackelford. He explained that Ben played a major role in establishing the debate mentoring program, including setting the tone and expectations for those who want to help. And he doesn’t shy away from the time-consuming work required, Mike said, because he understands the benefits of mentoring. “Ben will go out of his way to give real coaching feedback. He'll write out comprehensive evaluations. He'll proofread student work. He's always pushing them to meet their potential.”

Ben understands that dialogue is the basis of a healthy democracy. More important than ‘winning’ any argument, for Ben, is the opportunity for ideas to be tested and exchanged respectfully in public.—Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund

This influence on middle schoolers is powerful, particularly because Ben has been in their shoes and serves as an example of where hard work can lead. “Middle School students can relate to Ben in direct and meaningful ways that I will never be able to,” Mike said. “They can see themselves on the same path. This gives them confidence and assurance that it will work out.”

Ben’s love of debate and, most importantly, to learning itself, also inspired him to establish a student debate group that meets weekly to discuss timely political topics. “Ben understands that dialogue is the basis of a healthy democracy,” Ryan wrote. “More important than ‘winning’ any argument, for Ben, is the opportunity for ideas to be tested and exchanged respectfully in public.”

Mike agreed. “He's always had a larger perspective on why he debates. For him, debate is a means to an end. He doesn't do it for trophies—he participates because he loves the challenge, the skill development, the knowledge he gains, and the people he meets. Setting up clubs and doing service is just a natural extension to this purposeful approach to activities.”

It is this natural drive to use his strengths to make a difference that truly sets Ben apart as a leader. Former Upper School history teacher Fiona Halloran summed it up when she wrote, “I believe that Ben is a person for whom puzzles and challenges are central to intellectual and personal engagement. He thinks the world ought to function smoothly. It does not. So he seeks ideas and actions that can make it a little better.”

Thank you, Ben, for your commitment to making the world a little better every day. From all of us at Rowland Hall, congratulations on this recognition.

Students

Smiling debaters bite their award medals.

The debate season is the longest of any activity in high school—for some Rowland Hall debaters, it didn’t end until late last month. After another fine regular season winning local and regional tournaments, a variety of exceptional debaters set a new standard for competitive excellence in our three postseason tournaments.

State

Rowland Hall “plays up” a division into the 3A classification. Ria Agarwal ’20 won the title in the solo event, known as a Lincoln-Douglas debate. Additionally, two duos—Jacque Park ’21 and Auden Bown ’21; and Ty Lunde ’21 and Maddy Frech ’21—closed out the final round of policy debate, making them co-champions.

National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) Nationals

The NSDA is the largest speech and debate association in the country. The qualifying tournament for Nationals is a special double-elimination competition where everyone in the district (from Logan to Lone Peak) debates each other until only two entries remain. Those two entries qualify to Nationals in June. This year, Peter Chase ’20 and Steven Dotorman ’20 along with Ben Amiel ’20 and Justin Peng ’20 outlasted the competition to control the two Nationals qualifications in policy debate. Cas Mulford ’19 and Zoey Shienberg ’20 qualified in public-forum debate. The outstanding placements, along with other wins from younger debaters, resulted in a district championship for the school.

Debaters stand with third-place trophy at Tournament of Champions.

From left, Sydney Young ’19 and Adrian Gushin ’20 with their third-place trophy at TOC.

The Tournament of Champions (TOC)

The TOC is considered the most prestigious debate tournament, especially for students interested in debating in college. The tournament is held every year in Lexington, Kentucky, and university representatives from around the country attend to scout and recruit talent. Only the top 68 teams in the country are invited to participate. To be eligible, debaters must have placed in at least two different national tournaments during the regular season. This year, six of our students qualified: Celia Davis ’19, Steven Doctorman ’20, Adrian Gushin ’20, Ben McGraw ’19, Sydney Young ’19, and Robin Zeng ’19. This is the second-highest number of students Rowland Hall has ever sent to the TOC. Building on that momentum, students had tremendous success at the tournament. Only six Rowland Hall teams have ever made it to the elimination rounds of the TOC, and all of them lost in the quarter-finals. Sydney and Adrian broke the “quarters curse” and made it to the semifinals, finishing in third place overall. “This performance is legendary,” praised Mike Shackelford, our debate coach since 2007. “It’s the best finish in Rowland Hall history.”

Over their seven-month season, these debaters heard judges give them over 500 decisions, both for and against us. But one decision was unanimous: the Rowland Hall Debate program had another incredible season, thanks to our hardworking students the sage leadership of Coach Shackelford.

Debate

You Belong at Rowland Hall