Hannah Pautz starts junior high speech and debate team
by Margaret Hurlbert
November 16, 2020

MUSCATINE, Iowa–Since her freshman year, Hannah Pautz has actively competed with the Muscatine High School Speech and Debate or Forensics Team. Now a senior, Hannah wanted to pass her love for speech and debate on to younger students before graduating. When developing plans for a service project for her Herbert Hoover Uncommon Student Award scholarship application, Hannah found a way to introduce others to speech and debate by founding a junior high school speech and debate team. Practices for the team began this fall, and Hannah has big dreams for the students she mentors.

Because of COVID-19 mitigation efforts, Hannah knew she could not hold club meetings in person at Susan Clark Junior High School. Undeterred, she invited interested students to attend practices via Zoom. So far, eight seventh and eighth grade students have joined, which Hannah considers a good number. Hannah hosts virtual meetings each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening at 7 p.m., with certain practices designated specifically for speech students or for debate students.

In the three weeks they have met, students have dived right into the world of speech and debate. Hannah explained that she used the first week to go over the basics of speech and debate events and to show students videos of successful performances. The second week, speech students played improvisation games and debate students learned to write a four bullet point speech, both activities designed to get them thinking and presenting on their feet.

In the third week, students chose an event they would like to compete in. Students may choose from the same nine events that high school students competing in National Speech and Debate Association tournaments do and will learn to compete in them just as older students do. These include humorous interpretation, dramatic interpretation, and duo interpretation for speech students; and congressional debate, extemporaneous speaking, and Lincoln Douglas debate for debate students.

In June, Hannah intends to have the junior high school team compete at the National Speech and Debate Tournament, which has an open middle school competition. Before that though, Hannah hopes the team can compete against other middle school teams. Though no schools locally have a team, Hannah has researched other schools across the state that do and would like to take Muscatine’s team to their competitions, if they can do so safely, in light of COVID-19 safety measures.

So far, Hannah has felt elated with the progress the middle school students have already shown, especially in developing self esteem and original thinking. “I’ve really really enjoyed seeing these students become more confident and creative, even in just these three weeks,” she said.

Along with having the satisfaction of introducing junior high school students to speech and debate for the very first time, Hannah’s community service project has the possibility of earning her the Herbert Hoover Uncommon Student Award. As one of the top 15 finalists, Hannah will present at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Oct. 31 to discuss the impact of her project, the challenges she has faced implementing it, and how she has overcome them. All finalists will earn a $1,500 scholarship with the official award recipient receiving an additional $10,000.

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