In class project, speech and debate president hopes to help younger students overcome fear of public speaking

March 23, 2017 — by Muthu Palaniappan and Austin Wang

Junior develops new method of improving debate team.

Junior Divya Rallabandi is one of the standout performers on the speech and debate team. So when Anatomy and Physiology teacher Kris Orre gave students the chance to work independently and create a product as part of the Twenty Time project in the class, she knew what she wanted to do.

Her goal was to start a  workshop for elementary and middle school students interested in improving their speaking skills.

Motivated by her own past fears of public speaking, which she grew to overcome in through her experiences with speech and debate, she decided to work on this idea to help children who were scared of public speaking in a non-competitive environment.

Currently, Rallabandi is hoping to work out the logistical obstacles with the help of Orre and principal Paul Robinson.  Orre has been impressed with her efforts..

“I see a general interest in Divya: she is putting in work inside and outside of class,” Orre said. “I see it's something that she is genuinely passionate about.”

This passion comes from Rallabandi’s own experiences with conquering her fears — while she is currently a nationally ranked competitive speaker, she once found difficulty in speaking to a group.

“I wouldn’t really talk in class so the teachers were concerned, and they sent me to see advisors to see why that was happening,” Rallabandi said.

Rallabandi pushed herself out of her comfort zone in 2015 by signing herself up for her first speech tournament at the North South Foundation, an educational facility that offers various academic competitions for middle school and high school students. In reality, this tournament was hardly competitive; Rallabandi was the only competitor present.

As she spoke to the other students at the North South Foundation, she realized that most of the students there were afraid of public speaking and were unwilling to even try the speaking events.

“I immediately saw that there was a lack of participation in speech, as less than five kids would do public speaking,” Rallabandi said. “Parents were just signing their kids up to help their kid get over their fear of public speaking.”

As the current president of the speech and debate team, Rallabandi is dedicating herself to inspiring younger students with the same mentality. She sought to take a different approach to teaching public speaking, one that focused less on competitive success and more on individualized learning.

“The whole problem with this competitive environment is that kids won’t overcome their fears by attending one competition and having them compete and compare themselves with other people,” Rallabandi said.

If her Twenty-time project gains approval, Rallabandi hopes to incorporate other members of the SHS speech and debate team in the project as well. She sees experienced student volunteers from the team teaching the younger students in a workshop format.

“An essential part to having this program be successful will be having a lot of student volunteers be teachers,” Rallabandi said. “Obviously one teacher with 30 students wouldn’t work, so I’m going to need a lot of help.”

Luckily, Rallabandi found that other upperclassman members of the speech and debate team said they are happy to lend their experiences and skills to her program.

Senior Siavash Yaghoobi, captain of the Lincoln Douglas Debate team, expressed interest in passing his knowledge down to the younger generations. Yaghoobi has already shown a dedication to teaching by volunteering to judge at novice tournaments.

“After I finish the season with the next few tournaments, I'll be done with my own competitive career,” Yaghoobi said, “so coaching younger kids is a way of staying a part of the community and giving back.”

The main problem Rallabandi faces is the fact that she needs to come up with a flexible syllabus that molds to every student’s unique goals. She said that each student is so different in skill level that making a concrete syllabus is nearly impossible.

If she can get the program up and running, she thinks it can begin to help kids who felt the way she did.

“Public speaking doesn't necessarily have to be about speech and debate; it can just be talking to people in the community,” Rallabandi said. “Opening up and just being able to express your opinions about society in order to create a change in other people. That’s what’s really important and that’s what I’m hoping to teach with this program.”

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