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AR Debate Soars in First International Debate Research Opportunity

Rowland Hall and debate go hand in hand.

For nearly 40 years, the school has offered a top debate program—we’ve even been named a Debate School of Excellence by the National Speech and Debate Association, and our debate team has claimed the last four 3A speech and debate state championships (2021–2024).

Needless to say, a lot of exceptional debaters roam the Upper School halls, so when the division’s administrative team was identifying potential areas for AR classes, they knew that a high-level debate-based research class would appeal to and benefit the school’s most advanced debaters. And for debate coach Mike Shackelford, AR Debate offered an ideal space for debaters to not only work on ongoing prep for their Policy and Public Forum competition events, but to harness their knowledge and skills in a new way.

“Our kids are really good at research, and it was important to me to give them an opportunity to show off their research skills in a more traditional format,” he said.

And Mike knew just the right outlet: the International Public Policy Forum global essay contest, which he had heard about from some of his national colleagues. Jointly administered by the Brewer Foundation and New York University, this contest “gives high school students around the globe the opportunity to engage in written and oral debates on issues of public policy.”

To participate in the IPPF contest, teams of at least three students from the same school are invited to submit a qualifying essay of no more than 3,000 words on the topic (this year’s was “Resolved: Governments should provide a universal basic income”). Teams can either affirm or negate the topic in qualifying essays. From there, a panel of judges chooses the top 64 schools to advance to a single-elimination, written debate tournament—in other words, teams are invited to engage in a pen pal-style debate competition. During each round, a team receives a competitor school’s latest 3,000-word essay via email, then writes an 1,800-word rebuttal. Judges review both essays and choose the top response from each round. The contest ends with the final eight teams traveling to New York City in early May for IPPF Finals Weekend.

Even with steep odds, the Rowland Hall team stood out. They were selected to move on to the top 64—and called out for their exceptional work on their qualifying essay. "This is a fantastic paper, bordering on brilliant,” one judge wrote. “This paper reflects scholarship rivaling post-graduate work.”

In October, the eight AR Debate students (three seniors, three juniors, and two sophomores) began working on their qualifying round essay. To stand out, the Rowland Hall group decided to write their essay using a critical feminist analysis, affirming universal basic income as a way to reduce domestic violence, reverse the stigma of welfare, and promote a more just concept of work that’s valued in the United States.

"We took this approach because we thought other papers would be written from traditional economic topics, and we didn’t want to silence an important perspective,” said Mike.

The team hoped to qualify to the round of 64, but suspected competition would be stiff. Indeed, this year, 311 teams, representing schools in 26 countries, submitted qualifying essays to the IPPF. But even with these steep odds, the Rowland Hall team stood out. They were selected to move on to the top 64—and called out for their exceptional work on their qualifying essay.

"This is a fantastic paper, bordering on brilliant,” one judge wrote. “This paper reflects scholarship rivaling post-graduate work.”

Buoyed by this feedback, the group jumped into the competition, ultimately submitting and defending seven different essays to and against schools from Texas to Canada. With a trip to New York as their new focus, the AR Debate students remained nimble, switching sides in their essays as required and working closely to write their best responses.

Rowland Hall debaters qualified to the Sweet 16 of the International Public Policy Forum global essay contest.

This year's AR Debate class with their Sweet 16 IPPF Contest medals.


“It’s rare, at least in debate, to have that much of a collaborative research opportunity—to have one product with six cooks in the kitchen, writing, collaborating, and thinking,” said Mike of this new opportunity for debaters. “The competitive debate world is so insulated, so this experience was so valuable in translating the skills they’ve been building. They know intuitively they’re great researchers, but I don't think they ever had practice taking their debate cases and translating them into papers.”

The small nature of the AR Debate class created an environment that facilitated targeted, individual growth in addition to improvement as a team. This meant that each of us got more individual attention in terms of feedback and skill improvement than before.—Eli Hatton, class of 2025

Class members also felt the benefits of stretching their skills. “AR Debate has given us the opportunity to use our research and argumentative skills beyond Policy Debate competition. I am glad I took AR Debate mainly because of the dedicated time and space for focusing on improving debate skills, practicing debates, and building arguments and strategy,” said junior Eli Hatton, who plans to continue debating in college and appreciated how the research-based approach of the class challenged class members, helping them become stronger debaters.

“The small nature of the AR Debate class created an environment that facilitated targeted, individual growth in addition to improvement as a team. This meant that each of us got more individual attention in terms of feedback and skill improvement than before,” Eli continued. “I personally learned quite a lot about the areas where I needed to improve and became a much better debater as a result.”

And though the team didn’t make it to New York City (they were defeated in the Sweet 16 round, in a 2-1 decision, in early April), they are proud of what they accomplished and how far they went in their first IPPF contest. Returning debaters are even looking forward to next year’s competition.

“After the close loss, I was expecting students to be hesitant in making the same investment next year," said Mike. "Instead, they unanimously said it was a positive and fun experience and that they would want to do it again.”

Check out the AR Debate students’ work: view one of the team’s negative essays (submitted during the round of 32) and one of their affirmative essays (submitted during the round of 16).

AR Debate Soars in First International Debate Research Opportunity

Rowland Hall and debate go hand in hand.

For nearly 40 years, the school has offered a top debate program—we’ve even been named a Debate School of Excellence by the National Speech and Debate Association, and our debate team has claimed the last four 3A speech and debate state championships (2021–2024).

Needless to say, a lot of exceptional debaters roam the Upper School halls, so when the division’s administrative team was identifying potential areas for AR classes, they knew that a high-level debate-based research class would appeal to and benefit the school’s most advanced debaters. And for debate coach Mike Shackelford, AR Debate offered an ideal space for debaters to not only work on ongoing prep for their Policy and Public Forum competition events, but to harness their knowledge and skills in a new way.

“Our kids are really good at research, and it was important to me to give them an opportunity to show off their research skills in a more traditional format,” he said.

And Mike knew just the right outlet: the International Public Policy Forum global essay contest, which he had heard about from some of his national colleagues. Jointly administered by the Brewer Foundation and New York University, this contest “gives high school students around the globe the opportunity to engage in written and oral debates on issues of public policy.”

To participate in the IPPF contest, teams of at least three students from the same school are invited to submit a qualifying essay of no more than 3,000 words on the topic (this year’s was “Resolved: Governments should provide a universal basic income”). Teams can either affirm or negate the topic in qualifying essays. From there, a panel of judges chooses the top 64 schools to advance to a single-elimination, written debate tournament—in other words, teams are invited to engage in a pen pal-style debate competition. During each round, a team receives a competitor school’s latest 3,000-word essay via email, then writes an 1,800-word rebuttal. Judges review both essays and choose the top response from each round. The contest ends with the final eight teams traveling to New York City in early May for IPPF Finals Weekend.

Even with steep odds, the Rowland Hall team stood out. They were selected to move on to the top 64—and called out for their exceptional work on their qualifying essay. "This is a fantastic paper, bordering on brilliant,” one judge wrote. “This paper reflects scholarship rivaling post-graduate work.”

In October, the eight AR Debate students (three seniors, three juniors, and two sophomores) began working on their qualifying round essay. To stand out, the Rowland Hall group decided to write their essay using a critical feminist analysis, affirming universal basic income as a way to reduce domestic violence, reverse the stigma of welfare, and promote a more just concept of work that’s valued in the United States.

"We took this approach because we thought other papers would be written from traditional economic topics, and we didn’t want to silence an important perspective,” said Mike.

The team hoped to qualify to the round of 64, but suspected competition would be stiff. Indeed, this year, 311 teams, representing schools in 26 countries, submitted qualifying essays to the IPPF. But even with these steep odds, the Rowland Hall team stood out. They were selected to move on to the top 64—and called out for their exceptional work on their qualifying essay.

"This is a fantastic paper, bordering on brilliant,” one judge wrote. “This paper reflects scholarship rivaling post-graduate work.”

Buoyed by this feedback, the group jumped into the competition, ultimately submitting and defending seven different essays to and against schools from Texas to Canada. With a trip to New York as their new focus, the AR Debate students remained nimble, switching sides in their essays as required and working closely to write their best responses.

Rowland Hall debaters qualified to the Sweet 16 of the International Public Policy Forum global essay contest.

This year's AR Debate class with their Sweet 16 IPPF Contest medals.


“It’s rare, at least in debate, to have that much of a collaborative research opportunity—to have one product with six cooks in the kitchen, writing, collaborating, and thinking,” said Mike of this new opportunity for debaters. “The competitive debate world is so insulated, so this experience was so valuable in translating the skills they’ve been building. They know intuitively they’re great researchers, but I don't think they ever had practice taking their debate cases and translating them into papers.”

The small nature of the AR Debate class created an environment that facilitated targeted, individual growth in addition to improvement as a team. This meant that each of us got more individual attention in terms of feedback and skill improvement than before.—Eli Hatton, class of 2025

Class members also felt the benefits of stretching their skills. “AR Debate has given us the opportunity to use our research and argumentative skills beyond Policy Debate competition. I am glad I took AR Debate mainly because of the dedicated time and space for focusing on improving debate skills, practicing debates, and building arguments and strategy,” said junior Eli Hatton, who plans to continue debating in college and appreciated how the research-based approach of the class challenged class members, helping them become stronger debaters.

“The small nature of the AR Debate class created an environment that facilitated targeted, individual growth in addition to improvement as a team. This meant that each of us got more individual attention in terms of feedback and skill improvement than before,” Eli continued. “I personally learned quite a lot about the areas where I needed to improve and became a much better debater as a result.”

And though the team didn’t make it to New York City (they were defeated in the Sweet 16 round, in a 2-1 decision, in early April), they are proud of what they accomplished and how far they went in their first IPPF contest. Returning debaters are even looking forward to next year’s competition.

“After the close loss, I was expecting students to be hesitant in making the same investment next year," said Mike. "Instead, they unanimously said it was a positive and fun experience and that they would want to do it again.”

Check out the AR Debate students’ work: view one of the team’s negative essays (submitted during the round of 32) and one of their affirmative essays (submitted during the round of 16).

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