JA Alumni De'Onta and De'Na Newborn receive scholarship to attend national debate competition
At the closing of the 2015-16 academic year, De’Na and De’Onta Newborn, JA alumni and recent graduates of Lee A. Tolbert Community Academy (LATCA), were two of only seven students who qualified for the national debate tournament hosted in Salt Lake City, Utah in June 2016. With determination, a winning attitude, and a little help from their grandmother, the twins raised the funds necessary to attend the competition.
JAKC President & CEO, Megan Sturges, received the request for support and immediately knew she wanted to make this dream a reality for the beloved young members of the JA family. De’Onta and De’Na have a close relationship with the staff and volunteers at JA – taking three JA courses at Lee A. Tolbert and appearing as special guests at three Business Hall of Fame banquets.
Junior Achievement awarded De’Na and De’Onta each a scholarship to cover the cost of their travel, entry fee, and spending money. Through the support of their family and the community, and an immense amount of preparation and study, the twins walked away from the national competition as semi-finalists in a group of over 200 of the best debate students in the country.
As one of the first local teams to incorporate 5th graders, LATCA competes year round, beginning two weeks into the school year and ending with the national tournament every summer. The team competes in the Debate Kansas City League and the South Suburban Debate League. Last year, De’Na set a record at the Debate Kansas City competition as the first person to take first place two consecutive years. She also took third place twice in the state-wide Winston Churchill Competition.
With the competition level increasing each year, LATCA expects participating students to meet several requirements. Students must have a 3.5 GPA or higher, demonstrate outstanding behavior, have a history of preparation for local debate tournaments, and their parents must be supportive and communicative with the staff.
De’Na’s interest was sparked by the opportunity to argue without repercussion and the ability to make new friends. De’Onta thrives on the competition and the use of facts to back up his claims. Both students credit debate with teaching them vital communication skills and problem solving. De’Na began debating four years ago, but this school year was De’Onta’s first experience with debate.
“De’Na has a very domineering voice and it’s very intense,” De’Onta said about his sister. De’Na added her brother also has a commanding voice. “He has a dominance that is very intimidating, and I think it helps that we have that competitive spirit. It gives us confidence going into each round.” At the national level, participants prepare 30 resolutions, only using a minimum of eight - that is two resolutions per round with four rounds in the semi-finals.
Debate Coach, Bill Lindsey, encourages the team to work hard and prepare while pushing them to do their absolute best. “It’s what you put into it, not what you get out of it,” he said, “We have to work a little harder here in the city because of the economic status of some of our kids. But these kids have their own drive and motivation because they have a wonderful grandmother.” Beaming with pride for the accomplishments of De’Na and De’Onta, he adds, “Thank you for recognizing the talent and future leaders we have in both of them, and supporting them.”
With seven qualifying students, Lindsey knew the school could not afford to send all the candidates to the national competition. “We did some in-house fundraising,” he said, “but we wanted the kids to go out and approach the people they know in the community for sponsorships.” In-house fundraising supported the cost for parents and chaperones to accompany the kids, but that left a significant amount to raise for each student to compete.
The Newborn siblings’ grandmother, Letta Young, served as a chaperone on the trip to Salt Lake City, and helped her grandchildren reach out to the community for funding. “I was so shocked when Megan (Sturges) told me JA was going to cover it. That was so perfect because I didn’t know how I was going to come up with the money.” She attends almost all of her grandchildren’s competitions. “I listen to their speeches and make suggestions. I go to the debates and a lot of times I’m the only parent,” Letta said. “I am very proud of both of them. They work hard. I couldn’t ask for two better kids.”
Next year the national debate tournament will be hosted in Birmingham, Alabama, and the Newborn twins have the opportunity to attend as assistant coaches - helping younger students prepare and giving back to their cherished charter school. As De’Na and De’Onta prepare to debate as freshmen at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy this fall, supporting them in any way possible is not a debate here at JA.