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Success Academy Students Showcase Their Debate Skills On Capitol Hill


Brian Whitley, 510-495-5542

After last night’s highly anticipated presidential debate, eighth graders from the top-performing charter network’s East Harlem middle school demonstrated the impact of great teachers.

Washington, DC — Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton might have gotten under each other’s skin last night, but a group of young debaters proved unflappable today in a student showcase on Capitol Hill.

Nine eighth graders from Success Academy Harlem East demonstrated their rhetorical skills before an audience that included members of Congress, staffers, and education policy experts. Their performance highlighted the profound difference outstanding teachers can make for students.

The event, held in the Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office Building, included a live debate about students’ Fourth Amendment rights during school searches and a Q&A with the audience.

Among the attendees were Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who represents upstate New York and is the youngest member of Congress, and longtime Congressman Charlie Rangel, whose district includes SA Harlem East. Congressman Rangel applauded the students for their debate performance and encouraged them to pursue their passions.

“Ensuring quality education has always been one of my top priorities. I am very pleased that these students are receiving special training to develop the essential skills needed for success in college and career,” said Congressman Rangel. “Thanks to their willingness to learn and amazing teachers, these students are bound for success in life.”

Jabril Goodner, SA Harlem East’s debate coach and teacher, served as the judge and provided feedback after the 30-minute contest.

“Debate is so important for middle schoolers who are in critical stage of development. They really are starting to learn how to communicate and how to argue for things they believe in,” Mr. Goodner said. “Events like today give them a head start on thinking about their professional futures.”

The debate program at Success Academy emphasizes strategic thinking, public speaking, and evidence-based arguments, and students put all of those skills on display throughout the afternoon.

Success Academy’s growing program is led by 10 extraordinary debate teachers. Already this year, Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts junior Sekou Cisse won Best Speaker at the prestigious Yale University Debate Invitational, and expectations are high for other competitive debaters across the network. Students at Success Academy begin competing in tournaments as early as fifth grade and have debated topics including global warming, the minimum wage, and stop-and-frisk policies. Last year, more than 70 scholars competed in over 20 debate competitions across New York City and the Tri-State area.


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Kate Gomez (left) and Samantha Perez demonstrate “crossfire” tactics during debate.

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Congresswoman Elise Stefanik shakes hands with SA Harlem East scholars.

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Hannah Moskowitz delivers the opening statement of the debate.

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Congressman Charlie Rangel addresses Success Academy scholars.


Founded in 2006, Success Academy Charter Schools are free public K-12 schools open to all children in the state through a random lottery. With 41 schools across Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens, Success Academy enrolls 14,000 students, primarily low-income children of color in disadvantaged neighborhoods: 77% of students receive free or reduced-price lunch, 95% are children of color, 12% are children with disabilities, and 8.5% are English language learners. Ranked in the top 1% in math and the top 1.5% in English on 2016 state proficiency tests, Success Academy schools received more than 20,000 applications for about 3,200 open seats this year.  


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