2017 Summer Debate Academy

Fake news vs. independent journalism. Cyber-bullying vs. online community building: Philly youth debate pros and cons of social networking sites

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New friends, 7th grader Shakia of Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter Schools, and 8th grader Raquel of Maratime Academy Charter School prepare for cross fire round vs. opponents!

On Friday, August 4th, students participating in ASAP’s Summer Debate Academy competed in a two round tournament on the following topic, “Resolved: On balance, social media networking sites have a positive impact on the United States.”  But this was not their first go at the topic.

Over the course of two weeks, 40 Philadelphia youth, from 25 schools in Philadelphia, had been steadily crafting pro and con arguments on the growing influence social media has on public discourse, government policy and international relations. The catch, is that a huge percentage of this year’s campers were debate novices, perhaps only used to arguing over pizza toppings without respective restraints, instead of climate change and the Electoral College.

The structure of the camp was to divide students into four groups, each with a teacher and a TA. During the first week, groups learned the basics of debate through instruction and games, while discussing the social media topic with their teachers, a topic so relevant to the life of a millennial. Groups were quoted, “I’m not sure I can even imagine a world without social media. It doesn’t exist.”

Then, in the second week, students were placed in pairs and began to research the social media topic using evidence packets and Microsoft tablets provided by ASAP.  From there, the pairs wrote pro and con speeches and practiced for the upcoming tournament.


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Veteran 9th grader, Maliek of Paul Robeson HS and 8th grader, Berekt, of Labroatory Charter School fight for their contentions! 

The academy is unique, in that students with experience often work with partners who are still learning debate techniques and strategies, and are almost always from different schools from throughout the city. Although apprehensive at first, students unanimously agreed that the most important part of the experience was the friends that they made.

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New to debate, 9th grader Mateo, of Esperanza Academy Charter School and 8th grader Sanaiah of Maritime Academy Charter School question the validity of their opponent's argument   

Correction. The family they gained.

In addition to reading, writing and constructing arguments, students were also granted a variety of opportunities to further explore and interact with content related to the final tournament, such as speaking to education reporter, Avi Wolfman-Arent and Assistant Vice President of News, John Mussoni, of WHYY and News Reporter, Dave Kinchen of Fox 29 News, about the effects of social media on journalism and the spread of fake news.

Overall, Avi and John offered an interactive presentation where they provided expertise on busting “bogus” sources, and recognizing credible information in a public sphere. John even distributed copies of the National Enquirer to show how “fake news” existed even before the internet. Then, Dave of Fox 29, engaged the kids on topics about “clickbait” and the fast pace nature of TV news. All three reporters took questions from the group, and the students gained perspective on the topic of their upcoming tournament. Avi even returned on the final day of the camp to interview students about their competitions. Click here to read more!



[From left to right]: Avi-Wolfman and John Mussoni of WHYY and Dave Kinchen of Fox 29 

Thanks to ASAP Debate Partners throughout the city, the students were also able to attend recently open and highly acclaimed Museum of the American Revolution in Old City, on Friday, July 28th.  ASAP debaters enjoyed a guided tour, engaged with Revolutionary War experts, and paid particular attention to debates among colonists and Native Americans about the merits of loyalty to the Crown and independence.



ASAP Summer Debate Academy at both Constitution Center and American Revolution Museum 

The final stop was the Constitution Center on Independence Mall on August 1st! The museum’s main exhibit and famous Freedom Rising performance provided our students with various perspectives on the Constitution’s first amendment. The protection of free speech proved to be an important discussion topic when considering the impact of social media in the United States. While con cases could use the spread of “fake news” on social media as evidence, pro cases could claim that any information – even disinformation – is protected by the first amendment.

As the quick two weeks came to a close, students were ready for the ultimate test: debating against their peers. It was a chance to take all of the information gained throughout the week, in addition to the hands-on field trips provided, to try and win against their opponents. Ultimately, the results were as follows:

Top teams (receiving trophies)

  • 1st: Joseph (8th grade) & Jahmeer (8th)
  • 2nd: Karlysa (10th) & Amirah (8th)
  • 3rd: Raihannah (9th) & Priya (9th)


Top speakers (receiving medals)

  • Joseph, 8th [#1 speaker]
  • Jahmeer, 8th
  • Dejah , 8th
  • Karlysa, 8th
  • Priya, 8th


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Coach Natacha and TA Jada, a previous Girls' High debate alum, currently attending Temple University standing proud with their kids! 

ASAP would like to thank the Hamilton Family Foundation, Thomas Skelton Harrison Foundation, Wells Fargo, the Lenfest Foundation and the School District of Philadelphia for their support. In addition, ASAP is grateful for the Museum of the American Revolution and the National Constitution Center for providing hands-on experiences for our Philadelphia youth. Finally, we could not do it without our wonderful volunteer judges, teachers and TA's who dedicated two weeks of their summer, not only educating our youth on debate, but providing a fun and safe environment for the kids this summer.

As always, we look forward to next year!



This article was written and edited by ASAP Debate Coordinator, RJ Tischler and Communications & Development Coordinator, Victoria Bakey

2017 Summer Debate Academy Flyer!

Summer Debate Academy!

14th Annual ASAP Chess & Philadelphia Eagles Tournament


Over 200 students participated in the 14th Annual Philadelphia Eagles Chess Tournament at Lincoln Financial Field. Students were able to meet Swoop, challenge Philadelphia Eagles player Caleb Sturgis in chess, and visit the locker room for the award ceremony. Thank you to the Philadelphia Eagles and Eagles Charitable Foundation for hosting us, Caleb Sturgis for spending time with the students, parents and coaches for spending their Tuesday at the tournament, and the students, themselves, for participating all year in chess. Listed below are the final standings for individuals and teams:

1-5 U300

1. Yiguo Zhang (Walnut West Library)
2. Hieu Nguyen (Visitation)
3. Frankie Do (Visitation)
4. Hieu Pham (Visitation)
5. Marisa Maisano (A.S. Jenks)
Top Unrated: Khalif Nasir-Dennis (Black Knights)

1. A.S. Jenks
2. Walnut West Library
3. Visitation


1-5 Open

1. Long Quy (Masterman)
2. Emmanuel Cox (Enon)
3. Amin Branch (Enon)
4. Alikhan Muhammad (Black Knights)
5. Orion Brown (Meredith)
Top U500: Harry Barrett-Alexander (A.S. Jenks)

2. Masterman
3. Meredith


6-8 U500

1. Christian Diaz (Esperanza)
2. Kayla Cooke (Mitchell)
3. Elijah Chirico (Gideon)
4. Ryan Lienert (Hancock)
5. Charlene Southerland (Mitchell)
Top unrated: Nick Do (Visitation)

1. Mitchell
2. Gideon
3. Hancock


6-8 Open

1. Quinn Dominick (Masterman)
2. Angelica Speech  (Lenfest)
3. Marko Melishchuk (Masterman)
4. Derrick Moore (Mitchell)
5. Nasir Jones (Carver)
Top U700: David Barnes (Bregy)

1. Masterman
2. Esperanza
3. Carver


9-12 U800

2. Kuruvilla James (Northeast)
3. Jamal Williams (Dobbins)
4. Anh Nguyen (Community Academy
5. Weijun Ma (Northeast)
Top Unrated: Donald Dougherty (Dark Knights)

1. Dobbins
2. Dark Knights
3. Northeast


9-12 Open

1. Devon Taylor (Dark Knights)
2. Mark Frazier (Carver)
3. Josiah Findley (Carver)
4. Richard Martin (Carver)

1. Carver
2. Palumbo

Congratulations to everyone who competed in the tournament!

2016-2017 Impact Schools

At the heart of ASAP’s mission is a simple goal: give awesome kids amazing opportunities after school. No matter where they’re from. 

Every school year, thousands of kids in Philadelphia participate in ASAP club meetings and citywide competitions. These activities are not only extremely beneficial to student success, but also just plain fun!  Excitingly, these positive experiences are becoming more and more accessible for the city’s most under-resourced neighborhoods.

Our scrabble and drama programs at Martha Washington Elementary School, for example, have become available for families in West Philadelphia’s Promise Zone – a federal designation for neighborhoods struggling with persistent poverty. Patrick Rushing, Director of Artistic and Cultural Enrichment (ACE) at Martha Washington, chose our clubs because they aligned perfectly with the goals of his program:

“When I learned about ASAP, Scrabble really made sense to me. We focus on constantly building vocabulary, building reading skills. During drama, kids feel safe. They feel comfortable. They feel more motivated to be expressive, and you see their self-esteem starting to increase.” – Patrick Rushing (ACE)

Communities like those in the West Philly Promise Zone are dedicated to improving the lives of their children, and at ASAP, we have decided to concentrate our resources to help make that happen.  Last fall, Martha Washington became one of ASAP’s five Impact Schools – along with Cramp, Mitchell, Southwark, and Vare-Washington.  Each Impact School is a traditional neighborhood public school that is collaborating with ASAP to bring chess, debate, drama and Scrabble clubs to their sites. By hosting all four of our initiatives, the Impact Schools maximize our programs’ academic and social benefits – such as students’ improved performance in class and their sense of belonging to the school.

The five Impact Schools, like many public schools in Philadelphia, serve communities struggling with poverty. Their staffs and administrations continually strive to offer students the best education despite scarce resources and difficult neighborhood conditions; unfortunately, tight school budgets lower the priority of after school programs. That’s where ASAP steps in. With comprehensive trainings, lesson plans, and free events, ASAP bridges the gap and makes it easier for teachers and community volunteers to lead clubs.

In the first year of this pilot project, our sites have made terrific strides and are well on their way to hosting strong clubs covering all four ASAP initiatives. The effort has increased access to high-quality after school programming for over 340 students in 23 clubs at schools where such services have been historically scarce.


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Martha Washington’s drama club answers questions from the audience after their performance at ASAP’s Targeted Drama Showcase.

“Before I came here, there was zero after school programming.  Like, it didn’t exist…We have a lot of working families that don’t make it home until 5 or 6 o’clock, so you’d have kids at home by themselves, which is not safe and not productive.” – Principal Zack Duberstein

As Principal of Vare-Washington Elementary School, Zack Duberstein strives to provide his students with safe spaces and enriching activities before and after the dismissal bell. The school serves a diverse and constantly changing neighborhood in South Philadelphia, where students come from working-class families and low income households. In many cases, the families are new to the country and still learning English. Principal Duberstein recognizes these challenges and helps his students meet them head-on by developing a dedicated staff and partnering with high quality OST programs like ASAP.

“Now, we have after school programming five days a week, from 3:00 to 6:00pm, which is phenomenal.” - ZD

At Vare-Washington, ASAP has partnered with After-School All-Stars to support middle school chess, debate, drama and Scrabble clubs. Additionally, we’ve partnered with United Communities of Southeast Philadelphia for a targeted Scrabble club serving youngsters in Kindergarten through 4th grade. Scrabble was especially popular at the middle school level. The team, led by teacher Nathan Blodgett, competed in every match of ASAP’s inaugural Philadelphia Scholastic Scrabble League. Principal Duberstein was happy to report how the experience of citywide competition had significant impacts on his students:

“Every time they go to a competition and earn just a few more Scrabble points -- they feel motivated. We had one middle school student who was struggling academically. She started to do Scrabble and fell in love with the program. We saw a huge turnaround in the student -- she is no longer failing classes.” - ZD

Many of the students at Vare-Washington participate in multiple ASAP clubs. By having access to all four initiatives, the kids get a chance to try out a variety of activities and find out what fits their skills and interests. Often, the kids fall in love with several clubs. In this way, Vare-Washington accomplishes one of the main goals of the Impact Schools project: with frequent, diverse activities, kids have more opportunities to form meaningful connections to their school and build their academic abilities. Principal Duberstein sees this variety of activities as a major contributor to a student’s future success:

“In order to achieve our ultimate goal of making sure students graduate college, we want to create renaissance students. We want them speaking Spanish, and doing chess and Scrabble and debate and drama.” - ZD


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Vare-Washington’s Scrabble team poses with their medals at the Philadelphia Scholastic Scrabble League finals.

There has been much to celebrate this year from our four other Impact Schools as well. The drama littles at Martha Washington, for example, worked with our targeted model, participating in two days of drama club per week and covering literary themes with a professional teaching artist. The kids put on a terrific production for fellow drama students from around the city at ASAP’s Targeted Drama Showcase in February. The theme for this year’s showcase was “The Big Why,” which prompted clubs to perform a tale about creation. Our littles at Martha Washington donned cute headbands with giraffe ears to tell the story of why giraffes have such long necks!

Mitchell Elementary’s chess team has been highly competitive in ASAP’s Philadelphia Scholastic Chess League and even placed 3rd in our final tournament this past March! Since then, they have competed at the Pennsylvania Scholastic Chess Championships in Lancaster and Supernationals in Nashville, Tennessee. Traveling around the state and country has been an amazing experience for these kids.

Southwark hosted five (that’s right, five) Scrabble clubs through their OST programs with United Communities of Southeast Philadelphia and Puentes Hacia el Futuro. Both programs brought their students to several of our invitational Scrabble events. The two programs even organized an in-house tournament and squared off in the school cafeteria. Additionally, Southwark’s debate club has exceled at an impressive rate. Despite having started in February – many months after most competitive debate teams – Southwark had two pairs earn 4th and 5th place out of 17 teams in April’s middle school debate tournament!

Cramp’s highly popular chess and drama clubs serve an impressive number of kids. The chess club hosts a group of 18 middle schoolers – many of whom are learning the game for the first time. Likewise, Cramp’s drama club serves an ensemble of 22 4th graders, who have spent the spring gearing up to perform at ASAP’s first annual Dramafest on May 25th!

These accomplishments show what awesome kids can do with amazing opportunities.

All of these accomplishments certainly call for celebration, but there remains much work to be done. Several neighborhoods in Philadelphia continue to lack the out-of-school time services they deserve. That’s why ASAP is committed to expanding the Impact Schools project and partnering with even more communities.

Many thanks to our current partners at the five Impact Schools, and we look forward to collaborating again next fall!

To learn more, contact RJ Tischler at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 215-545-2727 x16.


This article was written by RJ Tischler, ASAP's Strategic Impact Coordinator.

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