More than 40 middle- and high-school students from about a dozen Miami-Dade schools trained and competed in the 23rd annual Hurricane Debate Institute at the School of Communication over three week-long sessions in June and July. Students learned speech and argument skills, public forum, policy debate, student congress debate and Lincoln-Douglas debate. 

The camp is highly interactive, featuring brief lectures, drills and debates, and written feedback to help them track their skills, said Leandra Lopez, co-director of the program. “We want to help them become better debaters, but we’re more focused in giving them tools for the real world, like public speaking, presentation, research and how to form strong arguments,” she said.

The training was evident as middle-schoolers debated drone warfare last week, representing opposing viewpoints of the U.S. government, Palestinians,  and a human rights organization. Their arguments echoed major themes in current policy discussions, including the reduced death toll of U.S. military personnel when drone strikes are used, civilian casualties and questions about due process.

The Institute also helps students think deeply and understand current issues and events. Other topics included capital punishment, protection and preservation of oceans, space policy in the U.S., government surveillance, sports versus fine arts in college education, U.S. intervention in Africa, and immigration reform.

The camp includes instruction from experts in communication about debate activity, structuring arguments, formats, even body language. “The kids really learn better by actually debating and practicing what we teach them,” Lopez said. “Some of the students who come to camp have never seen a round of debate before they arrive, but they leave with a strong foundation.”

Students at the camps have gone on to found debate clubs at their schools, and some have become UM students, college debaters and even instructors, said Randall Martinez, a UM PhD student and debate coach who has taught at the camp for several years. “Some of the students do return over several years and it’s fun for us to see how they learn and grow,” he said. “At tournaments, they’re winning top speaker awards, and some them continue on to college debate.”

Learn more about the Hurricane Debate Institute at