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West Valley City Journal

School Debate Team Fosters Academics

May 05, 2016 05:20PM ● By Bryan Scott

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

West Valley - At the age of three, babies are learning how to speak or run. The Granger High debate team, at the age of three, is collecting awards and qualifying its members for nationals. 

Three years ago, Granger High School started a debate team, bringing in Corey Tuckness out of retirement, who had almost 40 years of experience teaching drama and debate. 

“I enjoy it and when you have really good kids, you got to enjoy it,” Tuckness said. 

Those kids include senior Amy Brewerton and freshman Marian Figueroa, both joined the debate team this year. 

“I really needed to expand my comfort zone and get out of my shell,” Amy, joining in her last academic year, said. “I thought a lot of things needed to improve and this was a good way to do it.”

Amy, who holds dual citizenship with Canada, suffers from two anxiety disorders and Tuckness said she’s come a long way from when she first joined in August. 

“She gave her first speech in August and she couldn’t finish it, she sat down and cried,” Tuckness said. 

Since then Amy has helped win some of the trophies the team accumulated throughout the year. 

“She came that far from not being able to talk,” Tuckness said. 

The debate team has provided a space for every member of its group to share their experiences. 

“We all have a story to tell and we want to tell it,” senior Angel Herrera said. 

Those stories have earned the team recognition from their competitions across the state, but the trophies aren’t what gives them fulfillment. 

“You don’t have to win trophies just to have success — sometimes all that matters is how the kid progresses,” Tuckness said. 

Freshman Jelena Dragicevic, who will be traveling to two national tournaments this summer, said the reason she does debate transcends competition. 

“I didn’t do [debate] because I want this trophy or that rank. I’m passionate about immigration — my parents were war refugees [from former Yugoslavia] — and I just love fighting for that cause,” Jelena said. 

“You win by fighting for your cause,” Angel, who will be participating in the national tournament in Salt Lake City this June, said. 

Just three years into existence, the debate team’s cause seems ready to expand next year as the academic club puts together a council. 

Tuckness said a great thing about his students on the debate team is they approach their academics with the same tenacity as they do a competition. 

“They care about everything so much at such a high level — that that’s why they succeed,” Tuckness said. “Jelena will not accept anything in her classes less than 100 percent. She has to get 110 percent or she feels like she’s failed.”

Members of the team identified multiple benefits of the club from a personal and scholastic level to the community at large. 

Marian said it really helps them prepare for state tests with writing and presenting while Amy said it allows you to work on so many skill levels at once. 

As for the community, Jelena said the success of the debate team demonstrates that good things come out of West Valley and should help negate any negative connotations with West Valley. 

“Our success as a team should go out there to show that more time should be invested for the rest of the school and bump up the reputation for West Valley,” Jelena said. 

Jelena said it hurts when people, not just on the eastern side of the valley, but those in your own neighborhood, district or school, say they can’t invest time in them or they come from low income so they can’t be that great. 

Freshman Leila Mujic, national qualifier, said that’s why their debate team has been so amazing. 

“It proves them wrong. It shows that despite where you came from …you can still be something great,” Leila said. 

Tuckness said Leila is the nicest person, with so much ability. 

“She has so much talent — she’s going to nationals and she’s only a ninth grader,” Tuckness said. 

Tuckness said Angel was offered a full-ride scholarship to Westminster from one of their academic advisors when they heard his speech. Angel will actually be attending UCLA with plans to open up his own theater company. 

Six team members will participate in the 2016 National Speech and Debate Tournament June 12–17 in Salt Lake City while three will travel to Sacramento for the National Catholic Forensic League Grand National Tournament May 28–29. 

To find out where the tournament will be in Salt Lake City, go to