DALLAS – Arguing with middle schoolers might not be a parent's idea of a good time.
But, for only the second time in Dallas ISD history, students from Marsh Preparatory Academy will compete at the National Speech and Debate Tournament in Dallas, which will be held June 16-19.
School may be over, but practices continue until competition. On Thursday, the pre-teen's topic was feeding the growing world population with fish.
It's a high-brow discussion, but the pros and cons are masterfully handled by the sixth-through-eighth graders.
Their talent is obvious now, but it wasn't at first.
"My teacher, Mr. Freeman, he's actually the one who said, 'Hey, you should do this, you're really good!'" said Yesenia Ruiz, who just graduated from eighth grade.
Ruiz didn't think it was her thing, until she found out it was.
"I was like 'Okay, let's make this worth it. Let's talk about something you really want to put out there and hear,'" she said.
"One of the best things about debate is watching the light bulb go on," said Isaac Freeman, her debate coach, who also teaches language arts at Marsh.
In four years, he's turned the team into a big winner, while helping many kids dream bigger. There isn't much money at Marsh for laptops or extra coaching, but they have what matters.
"My kids have the talent, and it's a matter of we do what we can, y'know?" Freeman said.
What they can do includes their second trip to the National Speech and Debate Tournament in two weeks in their own backyard.
"Since the tournament's in Dallas, we figured we could not miss that opportunity," Freeman said.
Twenty-five Marsh debaters will compete in eight categories. Ruiz will read an original speech.
"I'm just really excited! And... I'm kind of nervous too!" she said.
But she knows her material, and she's learning Mr. Freeman's most important lesson: that what she and her classmates have to say matters.
If you'd like to help the Marsh Middle School Debate Team prepare for the finals and next year's competitions, you can donate to its GoFundMe Page here.