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North Miami teen’s debate program empowering kids

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by Christina Veiga, Miami Herald
As Pablo Storch took to the front of his eighth-grade speech and debate class, his voice and his legs shook.

He was a recent migrant from Buenos Aires. His English skills were minimal — along with his confidence.

“I was extremely nervous. I didn’t get such a great grade,” said Storch, now a junior.

But instead of shrinking to the back of the classroom, Storch practiced. He gave more speeches. He got better. He became more sure of himself — sure enough to run for student government.

“Debate has given me so much,” he said.

Now Storch, 17, is giving back, creating a speech and debate program called Speak Up at Beacon Hill School near Miami Gardens. He wants to give the dozen elementary and middle school students in the program the same self-assuredness he gained from his eighth-grade speech and debate class.

“One of these kids could be the next Albert Einstein,” said Storch, who lives in North Miami. “But if they don’t learn how to talk and communicate, their ideas will never get out into the world.”

Most Fridays, Storch rushes home from school at Dr. Michael M. Krop High School, as his father rushes home from work at his architecture firm. With four Advanced Placement classes on his plate, and obligations as class vice president and a board member of his school’s debate team, the younger Storch may be too tired to drive, his father worries. So together, they head to class.

“It’s something I do with great pleasure,” said Marcelo Storch, 50. “To see that your son can do things for the community without the promise of money, but just to help . . . I feel proud.”

At a recent meeting, Pablo Storch sits at a desk meant for students half his age. He listens, compliments and critiques as the students present speeches.

The noise of drum line practice carries from down the hall, intruding on the quiet in the small, gray room where they meet.

But Jahmali Walters, 10, pays no mind to the banging. He takes his spot in front of the room, and, with a smile, begins trying to convince his fellow debate team members why video games are good.

“Video games can be good in ways like, some are very educational,” he said.

Jahmali gives examples, uses hand gestures and makes eye contact with the crowd. When his speech is over, Storch offers observations.

“Your presentation was pretty good,” he said. “You could talk a little louder. It was good that you’re staying in one spot, not touching your clothes, anything like that.”

One by one, the students present their speeches as dusk begins peeking through four small windows. Pablo listens and is tough in his feedback.

“Talk louder,” he told one student.

“`Come on, more confidence,” he told another.

The students seem to appreciate the tough love.

“I learned how to speak properly and stand in one place,” said Jada Holloway, 11. “If you don’t speak properly, they won’t hear you properly.”

But students have learned more than how to speak up. They’ve learned to talk out their problems, said Demeteria Garrett, whose son is part of the debate team.

Garrett pulled her son, Shaddai Dunbar, 10, out of public schools when he was having trouble getting along with other students. Since Shaddai has been in Pablo’s program, she has noticed a difference in her son’s behavior.

“They’re learning to handle themselves,” she said. “He’s working it out. His principal said he’s maturing. So it’s a good feeling.”

For Storch, watching his pupils make progress means his work has paid off.

“Seeing these kids improve, it’s priceless,” he said.

Storch is looking for volunteers, and hopes to extend his program to other area schools. For information or to join, contact him at


Written by Symphony

December 22, 2009 at 8:41 am

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