High Schooler Jasmine Sanchez Steps Up to Coach Middle School Debate

Sanchez with her first place English-Speaking Union award from 2018.

Sanchez with her first place English-Speaking Union award from 2018.

Elizabeth Alton

It’s early on December 6th and Junior Jasmine Sanchez is ready to give her first speech of the season at a debate tournament. She stands in front of her computer, Zoom loaded, research printed, and some notes she scribbled during the duration of her opponents speeches in tight cursive. On Sanchez’s screen are her WESS teammates, her opponents, and the judge. While debate certainly looks different in the age of COVID, Sanchez isn’t going to let that stop her from doing what she loves.


Sanchez has been an avid member of WESS’s debate team since its founding in 2016. She was inspired to try the activity after talking to her cousin who competed in high school debate on an international level.


“[My cousin] showed me that that could be something that I’d be interested in,” Sanchez said. “I have always loved public speaking and speaking in a more formal manner. I’m more shy about speaking socially, but when it comes to formal speaking for some reason I really like it, so that was kind of what initially got me into it.”


While it may have been her cousin that caused debate to first spark Sanchez’s interest, she has certainly thrived in her own right. During her last tournament of middle school, Sanchez was first place speaker at the English-Speaking Union championship tournament, the league’s most prestigious speaker award. Now she’s transferring her skills and experience to coach WESS’s current middle school debaters. Working with the staff of Manhattan Youth, the after school administrators at WESS, Sanchez has been setting up a virtual program. 


Initially Kara Bhatti, WESS’s Manhattan Youth Coordinator, was grappling with what a virtual debate program should look like. With her ultimate vision of integrating school leadership into the after school program, Bhatti is excited to have Sanchez on board as the coach.


“Jasmine has stepped up to the plate in so many ways,” Bhatti said. “When I reached out and had a Zoom call and she was already so willing and just ready. She’s so into it and the kids are into the fact that she’s so passionate about debate that they take her seriously.”


Sanchez is channeling her enthusiasm about debate and interest in teaching into her plans for middle school debate. 


“I’ve always kind of liked teaching and talking about things that I’m passionate about,” Sanchez said. “Getting to work with middle schoolers in the past has shown me that it can be fun and this year it’s especially fun because most of the kids are also new to [debate] so they have that kind of excitement where they don’t really know what’s going on but they’re down to try it.” 


Georgia Mabbott is an eighth grader on the middle school team. While the pandemic continues, Mabbot feels lucky that debate is an activity that can be continued virtually, including both practices and tournaments. She’s excited to continue to debate into next semester with Sanchez as the coach. 


“[Jasmine] has been good at teaching the strategies,” Mabott said. “It’s kind of nice having someone who has done debate before… especially someone who’s a student because they understand how it’s hard to do the extra work sometimes.”


So far Sanchez has led three meetings with the team and has managed to ensure that tournaments would still be a part of virtual debate by working with schools WESS competed against in past years and the school’s league, the English-Speaking Union. And although the middle school team is a lot smaller than in previous years, Sanchez believes that may end up being advantageous. 


“I feel like it will help me to give them more attention and answer their questions and get them more confident,” Sanchez said. “So far they do seem very interested and I’m also seeing a large range of kids who want to do different types of speaking roles and who feel they are more confident in these skills and least confident in these skills, and I honestly do have high hopes for it.” 


Junior Eliana Cotter, who has been debating with Sanchez since they were in sixth grade, believes that Sanchez is a great fit to coach the team. 


“I think it’s really good for her to be doing this because one, she’s really good at teaching and relaying information and helping people learn, and like I said, pushing people to want to be better,” Cotter said. “And she definitely does pretty much everything, putting in a lot of effort and the most she can do with what she has, and I have no doubt that the middle school team is in really good hands with her being in charge”


While Sanchez has stepped up to help with the middle school debate team, she’s still competing on the High School level as well. With a new coach, the high school Spanish teacher Jessica Katz, WESS has joined the NSDA (National Speech & Debate Association) this year, which allows the team to compete on a national level opposed to the strict city competition from before. It also allows WESS students to branch out into other forms of debate. At their first tournament on December 6th which they completed on with only one week notice, Sanchez placed fourth as an individual speaker, and her team placed sixth. 


“I’m very excited to see that because they also have all kinds of debate so I’m hoping to move into public forum or something else,” Sanchez said. “And I know that [Jessica] is planning on setting up just a one on one scrimmage type thing against another school, so I’m definitely excited to have a lot more opportunities.”