ASAP Middle School Debaters Cover Immigration Reform

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On Wednesday, February 14th, 8th grader Douglas Johnson of Thurgood Marshall, boarded a North Philly bus with a one-way destination: ASAP Debate middle school tournament at Mastery Charter Hardy Williams. Although his school did not currently offer debate, he heard ASAP's new middle school debate topic was comprehensive immigration reform and knew that he wanted his voice to be heard-- a one-hour bus would not stop him. The timely middle school tournament addressed whether immigration reform should include a pathway to citizenship.

There, Johnson joined more than 100 students from schools across the city who have spent the last month crafting arguments for whether or not immigration reform should include a pathway to citizenship. The topic was selected by the students in December, prior to the political maelstrom that erupted over the new federal administration’s recent immigration policies. The topic also comes at a time when many schools in Philadelphia have welcomed a growing population of immigrant students, providing additional relevance and context to students’ examination of the issue of comprehensive immigration reform. 

Young Douglas felt strongly towards lending his voice to the nation-wide conversation, so much so that he competed as an individual--also known as a maverick--placing 2nd overall in the tournament, having no training or coaching assistance. 

While the ideological divide in Washington D.C. often seems difficult to bridge, the middle school debaters had to prepare both pro and con arguments on the topic at hand. Through this experience, students are learning to appreciate multiple perspectives and understand the importance of citing facts and research to support their claims. ASAP Debate Manager, Sara Morningstar told reporter Justin Udo of KYW Newsradio:

“They’re learning that there are multiple sides to each issue, that it’s not just black and white, there are grey areas. You could possibly change your mind. Everything isn’t just one-sided. I think that’s an incredibly important skill that our students are developing."

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ASAP Debate recognized the extensive efforts of paritipcating students by awarding 1st place to Tafiq Williams & Joseph Oronto-Pratt of Mastery Hardy Williams; 2nd place to Douglas Johnson of Thurgood Marshall and 3rd place to Riley Keenan & Noel McClellan of Masterman. The evening’s top speakers included Joseph Oronto-Pratt (Mastery Hardy Williams), Akayla Brown (Laboratory Charter School), Riley Keenan (Masterman), Tafiq Williams (Mastery Hardy Williams) and Douglas Johnson (Thurgood Marshall).

Young ASAP Debaters, continue to willingly challenge themselves with topics that are often divisive and arduous among even the most experienced professionals. However, these middle school voices find strength in devoted research and passion of individuals like, Douglas Johnson; someone who isn’t afraid to do it alone, and in this case, do it well.

 ASAP would like to thank Mastery Charter Hardy Williams for providing the space for ASAP's tournament and congratulates all its middle school debaters for a job well done.

ASAP's next middle shcool debate will be held on Wednesday, March 15th-World Speech Day- at Central High School. For more information, contact Sara Morningstar at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For information on upcoming topics, click here.


This article was written by ASAP/ After School Activities Partnerships Communication & Development Coordinator, Victoria Bakey. 

PECO-ASAP Celebrate 10 Years of 'Checkmate Violence'

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“In this room, there are a bunch of minds and one thing that chess does is keep your mind sharp. I’m intimidated by all of the brain power, all of the minds in this room,” proclaimed local Philadelphia Officer Mouzone. On Saturday, January 21st, ASAP hosted the 10th Annual PECO-ASAP Checkmate Violence Chess Marathon at Temple University, with over 250 of the city's most skilled competitors (now that’s a lot of brain power). From 9AM Saturday until 5PM Sunday, hundreds of scholastic chess players crowded the Temple University Gittis Student Center; some quietly practicing last minute moves, while others sorted through donated chess books to prepare for their next match. We get to go to so many places with ASAP, and play different people, know more people. We get to have free books…free books! I know there is a library, but this, this is a free book! exclaimed Kavai Sterling of ENON Connected Pawns chess club, as he stood next to his best friend, Christian Debrady. “We became friends because he did a weird opening at a tournament, and I knew I had to be his friend. He lost though…” jokes Christian. Kavai responded by excitedly sifting through multiple pieces of literature to strategize a win with a more efficient opening for Checkmate Violence. “I chose this book to get better on my opening. I’m tired of losing.” 

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Following 2 rounds of rated and non-rated matches, ASAP welcomed officers from the 39th Police District to say some words of encouragement at the lunch time pep-rally about the importance of utilizing chess to reach goals, while also welcoming the youth challengers to take on Philly’s finest. Sergeant Mannings took the stage, recognizing the role of dedicated adults in the room, “I commend coaches and parents and adults who brought the kids here- young people you don’t know what a gift that is. What they are doing is focusing your mind. Every coach here, every parent here and every police officer here will tell you-- you get in trouble when you stop thinking. Chess is a thinker’s game, so keep on thinking. Thinking keeps you out of trouble.” Over the last few months, the officers have been supporting the chess team at Dobbins High School, led by coach Prince Campbell.
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                                                                                           39th District Officers with Dubbins' High School Chess Team & Coach Prince Campbell

The message of considering one's actions and keeping youth engaged during after school hours was a constant theme spoken by the officers. However, Philly youth were not the only ones moved by inspirational words on Saturday. Sergeant Sanford stated, “I see a bunch of faces I’ve never seen before all sitting together and shaking hands and competing peacefully with each other. It’s a good thing to see. In the neighborhoods we serve, we don’t see this there. We need to see more of this. Keep going--keep the momentum.” 

Overall, ASAP recognized individual tournament competitors Austin Ready from Taggert (K-3U400), Luca Jose La Rosa of PPACS (K-5U700), Quinn Dominick of Masterman (K-8U1100) and Pernell Jordan of MTCC (K-12 open), for placing first in their sections.  Team awards were also distributed to first place schools and clubs; Powell and Black Knights (K-3U400), SLA Middle School and Lenfest Center (K-5U700), Masterman and Dark Knights Center City chess club (K-8U1100) and Abington High School and Minor Threats Chess Club all received first place! Although some went home with trophies, everyone left knowing they got to ‘checkmate violence.’
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After enduring 2 days of competitive chess matches, Philadelphia youth proved they had the stamina to not only weather the moves of their opponents, but also varying life obstacles to come.  ASAP chess players are developing a confidence to find success in their future aspirations. We are reminded of what Sergeant Sanford said during the pep rally as he stood next to young Kalif on stage, “In 10-15 years I don’t know what Kalif will be…a president, a doctor, a lawyer. I’m not sure. But he’s getting that guidance right here with ASAP.”
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ASAP is grateful to presenting sponsor PECO for its support of enriching activities and experiences for youth, as well as for the many teachers and volunteers who share their passion for the game with our city’s young people. ASAP also thanks Dobbin’s coach, Prince Campbell, Sergeant Jeffery Mannings, Sergeant Stanley Sanford, Officer Jamal McFadden, Officer Daniel Levitt and Officer Benjamin Mouzone for speaking at the pep rally. ASAP also is appreciative to Temple University for inviting students to explore its wonderful campus. 


This article was written by ASAP/ After School Activities Partnerships' Development Coordinator, Victoria Bakey.

Photographs provided by Rachel Utain-Evans 

Eagles Judge Middle School ASAP Debate Tournament

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Philadelphia Eagles' defensive end, Aziz Shittu, joined ASAP as a celebrity judge at December's middle school debate tournament

On Monday, December 12th, ASAP Debate held the largest middle school debate tournament in its history during which students passionately presented pro and con arguments on whether direct popular vote should replace the Electoral College. The event, hosted at J.R. Masterman School, featured 124 students from 11 different schools competing across three rounds.


Prior to the first round, youth crowded the Masterman cafeteria as they rehearsed their opening presentations.  When asked, a young middle schooler cheered over the excitement, “I do debate because I’m gonna be Mayor.” His classmate chuckled in response stating, “well watch out, because I’m going to be president.” Without question, the outcome of the recent presidential election added relevance and urgency to many of the students’ arguments.  “My voice isn’t being heard…Our voices aren’t being heard,” contested middle school debate student, Akayla Brown of Overbrook Educational Center, in favor of direct popular vote. However, as with all debates, students must be prepared to defend both sides of the argument and develop an appreciation for perspectives other than their own.


Special guest, Philadelphia Eagles’ Aziz Shittu, joined ASAP Debate for one of the tournament’s championship rounds. During the NFL season, Monday is typically reserved as a day off for the team. However, many Eagles players, such as Shittu, use this chance to enhance their community through the Eagles Care Community Monday Initiative, by teaming up with local non-profit charities to make a lasting impact on the community. Eagles’ defensive end Aziz faced the daunting task of judging middle school debaters Jewel Austin & Jasmine Jackson of Overbrook Educational Center and Akayla Brown & Eman Ghanem of Laboratory Charter School on replacing the Electoral College. Shittu was in the hot seat.

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 Other participating schools included Masterman, Mastery Charter School Hardy Williams, Overbrook Educational Center, Boys’ Latin Charter School, Friends Select, Young Scholars Charter School, Greenfield Elementary School, Hamilton Elementary School, Freire Charter School, the Laboratory Charter School, and Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School. Principal Brown of J.R. Mastermen School, kicked off the event, reminding the students, supporting faculty and volunteer judges that, “We must always remember that first and foremost we will have fun today.” Students cheered in excitement as they shuffled with their teammates through Mastermen hallways, for the first round…among them, many future leaders. 

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Overall, Masterman placed first, with 7th graders Keziah Miller and José DeSilva named as the top debaters on their team, while an additional 5 top speakers were recognized in a special feature in the Philadelphia Public School Notebook

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Photo credit: Rachel Utain-Evans
Finally, ASAP’s special guest, Aziz Shittu, addressed the students during the award ceremony, encouraging the youth to pursue the activities that they love, work hard at it, put the time in and most importantly, stick to it. His attitude of commitment and dedication to nurturing young talents, showcased on stage as he eloquently spoke to the middle schoolers about their futures.

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Photo credit: Rachel Utain-Evans
While many youth left their contentions and resolutions behind as the tournament concluded, no student left without the notion of remembering to have fun doing what they love.

ASAP thanks Principal Brown, Mr. Gilligan and the Masterman Debate team for providing a welcoming environment for ASAP Debate’s record-setting number of middle school debaters. In addition, ASAP thanks Eagles Care Community for supporting ASAP— especially the Eagles Charitable Foundation and Aziz Shittu – for their steadfast support of youth in Philadelphia.
When students return in January 2017, they will explore the critical facts in opinions of another hot topic: comprehensive immigration reform.


This article was written by ASAP/ After School Activities Partnerships Communications & Development Coordinator, Victoria Bakey 

Hometown Huddle: ASAP kicks of Chess and Scrabble League Seasons

"After school is as important to what happens during school,” stated Eagles punter, Donnie Jones. As the Philadelphia youth competitors and coaches gathered round, Jones expressed the equal importance of After School time and on-site classroom learning; a perfect game-day, rousing speech to kick off chess and Scrabble league seasons, on Monday, October 24th after an Eagles win against the Vikings.

In conjunction with the NFL’s 18th annual Hometown Huddle league-wide day of service, the Philadelphia Eagles and United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey (UWGPSNJ) joined ASAP/After School Activities Partnerships in the high school chess league and Scrabble Scholastic league kick off.  The Philadelphia Eagles have been a longtime supporter of ASAP chess. However, this year, ASAP Scrabble teamed up with the Eagles Care Community to host the inaugural Scholastic Scrabble League kick off. Hosted at the School District of Philadelphia, the event comprised of over 150 chess competitors and 45 Scrabble players from throughout the city.

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Philadelphia Eagles- Julie Bacanskas

During the NFL season, Monday is typically reserved as a day off for the team. Many Eagles players, such as Donnie Jones and Caleb Sturgis, however, use this opportunity to enhance the quality of life for residents in the Delaware Valley through the Eagles Care Community Monday initiative. Every week during the season, the Eagles team up with local non-profit charities on a variety of activities that aim to make a lasting impact on the community. These strategic partnerships do this by lifting spirits at local hospitals, strengthening neighborhoods, educating youth on healthy eating and physical fitness, promoting eco-friendly methods and making generous donations. This particular Monday, Jones and Sturgis were put to the test against ASAP chess and Scrabble participants, in addition to some veteran coaches…Johnny Scrabble and Matt Hopkins.

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While Donnie Jones questioned his tiles across from Johnny Scrabble, Eagles kicker Caleb Sturgis began a chess match against a student from the Carver High School team. Friendly smiles were exchanged, as competition eluded.

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Philadelphia Eagles- Julie Bacanskas

This was no typical third down or possible 2 point conversion at the Linc. As double word bonuses were gained, pawns were taken. Jones quickly realized the disadvantage of having only vowels on his Scrabble rack, while Strugis learned the value of home-field advantaged; the School district of Philadelphia is our Philly Youth’s turf.

"We are proud to have District students participate in ASAP's 2016 Philadelphia Scholastic Chess League and the new Philadelphia Scholastic Scrabble League, " states Dr. Hite, Philadelphia School District Superintendent. "Not only do these activities help improve students' analytical skills, memory, and decision-making abilities, but they also provide students the opportunity to meet children from other neighborhoods and schools. I'd like to thank ASAP, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey for supporting this important effort."



Jones and Sturgis, in addition to volunteers from #projectNEXT and United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, were essential in representing the over-all message ASAP/ After School Activities Partnerships wanted to portray during this joint event; Hard work, dedication, passion and willingness to learn from one another. ASAP states that after school is not just a time kids get to be themselves, but a time they get to BECOME themselves. Events such as the league kick off for both initiatives chess and Scrabble are a time Philadelphia youth get to BECOME themselves through enrichment activities that garner their specific interest. There is something for everyone.

As matches were concluded and flip clocks were switched off, ASAP staff, United Way volunteers and the Eagles Care community stood back and watched the comradery amongst the leagues. High fives were exchanged among our young scrabble players and handshakes given to conclude a match. We again were reminded by Jones’ words, "How you respond to adversity will make you a better person." Our kids responded with dignity, a few giggles and lessons in the game they had not known prior. Although two very different games, Philadelphia youth from both initiatives left with a similar sentiment; a fun and challenging day of BEING themselves.


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Thank you again to the School District of Philadelphia for providing a space for our kids to BE themselves in a healthy, encouraging and competitive environment, in addition to United Way volunteers and #projectNEXT who took the time to invest in our kids, as they build character and skills relevant to advance in their well-rounded, academic futures and positive relationships with their peers. In addition, we would like to thank Eagles Care Community & United Way for honoring ASAP for the 18th Annual Hometown Huddle grant. ASAP is also grateful for the Eagles Care Community and Philadelphia Eagles who came out to support our kids; as Jones and Sturgis know, two-a-days on the practice field are not worth much without the game day arena to showcase those skills. 

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This article was written by ASAP/ After School Activities Partnerships Communitions & Development Coordinator, Victoria Bakey 

ASAP's 3rd Annual Summer Debate Academy

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8 of the 43 Summer Debate Academy Students.  Starting from top-left: Anthony, Jahmeer, Maliek, Sydney, Tatyana, Ciani, Yari, and Baahij

Every kid is unique, but most have at least one thing in common: they like to argue!  For kids in Philadelphia that really love to argue, ASAP Debate offers a unique opportunity to practice speaking in public and defending their opinions.

The 3rd annual ASAP Summer Debate Academy took place from Monday, July 25th to Friday August 5th at George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science. Over the course of 10 five-hour days, the Academy engaged 43 students (grades 7-12) from all around the city.  They represented twenty-nine different traditional public, public charter and independent schools.  Four coaches from the city’s top middle and high school debate clubs in the city served as the camp’s lead instructors, and they were supported by four teaching assistants – all recent alumni of ASAP’s Philadelphia Scholastic Debate League (PSDL).  Together, our tremendous instructors and teaching assistants taught the students the necessary skills and structure of Public Forum Debate. 

By the end of the two weeks, I was able to meet all of the students and had the opportunity to interview eight of them individually.  Many, I found, were drawn to debate by their love of argument.

Eighth grader Maliek commented, “I always have loose debates, but never, like, constructed.”  The “constructed” form of debate was exactly what Maliek intended to learn at the Academy.  Outside of instruction, he had a space to exhibit his knack for argument; during instruction, he was developing his debate techniques and etiquette: “It’s formal, so I can’t jump in and butt anybody out, so I learned to just wait my turn.” 

The other students could certainly relate to Maliek’s affinity for argument.  Seventh grader Jahmeer recalled that “at my school, they have clubs, and there was a debate club that everyone said I would be good for, because I like to argue.  So I tried out, and I liked it.”  Eighth grader Tatyana also said, “I like to argue,” and added that, “debate helps me professionally argue.”

Eighth grader Sydney was pleased with the structure of Public Forum Debate.  She said, “I like it.  It’s a new experience.  I didn’t think that debate would be this way.  I thought, you know, somebody would give you an issue, and y’all argue about it.  I didn’t know there was a pro and a con side and that there were speeches involved.  I didn’t know you had to have actual facts.  It was nice to learn something new… it’s more active.  It requires more work.”

One of the main ways that students learn to formally argue is by developing their notetaking skills – what debaters call “flowing.”  Our teachers led instruction through the basics of flowing, and then the teaching assistants performed a demonstration debate.  The students practiced their flowing during the demo and discussed what the exercise had taught them.  Many students, like 8th grader Ciani, saw the benefits of learning better notetaking skills: “Now I know how to organize.  If I’m writing an essay, I can organize it a certain way – like how a debate speech would go.”  The students were well aware that these skills would benefit them beyond debate competitions.

After covering flowing technique, the students were introduced to the Summer Debate Academy’s main topic: whether or not the system of presidential primary elections is contrary to American democratic values. Students began preparing both pro and con responses.  At the end of the two weeks, the camp would host a tournament on the topic.

ASAP organized three informative field trips to help the students learn more about the primary electoral process and the various definitions of American democratic values.  The camp ran concurrent to the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, so ASAP arranged to bring the students to the DNC Women’s Caucus and Hillary Clinton’s rally at Temple University.  Campers had exposure to not only supporters of the DNC but also protestors of the American primary system, many of whom were expressing opinions campers would later feature in their pro-side contentions.  For historical background on American elections, the students also visited the National Constitution Center.  The visit included tours of the main and special exhibits, as well as a viewing of Freedom Rising, the multi-media performance exploring the definition of freedom throughout American history.

For many campers, the field trips added another exciting dimension to the Academy and provided real world context to their study of the primary process.  Ninth grader Yari commented: “The field trips I thought were amazing.  To start off with going to the DNC – just being there was an amazing experience.  It helps us students who don’t have the chance to do that on our own or with our families.  It’s given us the chance to see the outside world and how the election really is.  It was amazing.”  She also noted how fun and educational the exhibits at the Constitution Center were: “We played trivia games, we participated in many cool activities, we watched Freedom Rising, which opened up my mind a bit more about our history and how it has progressed over the years.  I think the field trips have been really helpful.”

Throughout the second week, instructors helped the students prepare for the camp’s tournament on the primary election topic.  This began with pairing the students based on complementary debating styles, personalities, and skill levels.  Each pair researched independently – with occasional guidance from instructors – to collect evidence and develop pro and con arguments.  On the final two days of camp, the pairs competed in a tournament.

The Academy’s culminating tournament helped the students see the progress they had made over the previous eight days.  Even those who were confident debaters prior to the camp, like seventh grader Baahij Arthur, recognized their own improvement: “I’m good at communicating, but I’m learning more communicating skills, social skills – learning how to project my voice and to have good posture when I’m standing or sitting, how to speak correctly, and to just be yourself when you’re doing debate.”

Sydney commented that “[debate] definitely develops public speaking skills, because you have to present to the judges your speeches, and it also teaches you how to compromise with people.”  Competing in pairs allowed the students to develop their teamwork skills.

By the end of the tournament, students were feeling confident and ready to compete again.  Many were eager to begin debating in the next season of the Philadelphia Scholastic Debate League, including Yari: “Debate helps in a lot of ways: raising self-confidence; learning how to think critically; thinking faster on your feet…With this Debate Academy, I’ve learned to not stutter as much, I’ve felt better, I’ve felt more prepared for the upcoming debate year.”  For those just starting debate, like eighth grader Anthony, the new season meant a chance to try out debate at their school’s club.  More experienced debaters, like Yari and several others, established themselves at the Academy as emerging leaders of their debate teams.  A few, like Maliek, were even inspired to start brand new ASAP Debate clubs at their schools!

To kick off this season of the Philadelphia Scholastic Debate League, ASAP will be hosting a Demonstration Debate on October 26th, from 3:30-4:45pm, at Central High School.  The city’s top high school debaters will put their skills on display and examine the topic of standardized testing.  We hope to see you there!


This article was written by ASAP/ After school Activities Partnerships' Strategic Impact Coordinator, RJ Tischler


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