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SPEAK Celebrates an exciting first quarter!

Read all about it here:

Where Have We Been?

In our first quarter entering into non-profit status, SPEAK demonstrated significant organizational growth. We continued our flagship program at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility (CRCF), led principally by Will Lowrey of Vermont Law School, with contributions from Assistant Instructors Toni Girardi, Laura Savall, Elise Iannone, Franny Solnick, and Kassie Tibbot. The program culminated with a debate surrounding whether governmental funding should be directed toward pharmaceuticals or holistic forms of medicine. We were lucky to have several new participants speak in this debate— a resounding success!

During the summer debate at the CRCF, our instructors successfully grappled with some in-classroom challenges discovered in previous debate performances at the facility. Instructors were able to limit the number of spectators to ensure that the guests in attendance focused on the debate rather than other non-debate related considerations (a.k.a. snacks!). This speaks to the considerable growth that instructors have experience in the past year volunteering at CRCF. We have now had three separate instructors independently lead programs of their own at CRCF, Jess, Luke, and Will, with a fourth, Izzy, set to begin our fall programming. Additionally, we’ve been able to recruit new instructors with diverse backgrounds, who have each brought a unique perspective to our classroom. Welcome to the crew!

Finally, as a result of several instructors’ collaboration with the Albert Schweizer Foundation, we were able to incorporate work-readiness skills, such as interviewing and resume building, into our curriculum. SPEAK uses debate as a tool to promote self-confidence and thoughtfulness in speaking to potential employers and peers, and we view these additional courses as an essential extension of our programming to help facilitate success for program participants post-incarceration.

In addition to our local programs, SPEAK experienced international expansion this summer. In early August, founder Jessica Bullock attended the annual Beihang Debate Academy at Beihang University in Beijing, China. She led sessions on the fundamentals of public speaking, argumentation, and a comparison of international education systems, and used SPEAK's curriculum materials to help support the training sessions. Additionally, Bullock offered an information session for teachers planning to start their own debate programs. SPEAK's curriculum has now been provided free-of charge to instructors in China, Israel, and Italy. These sessions serve as excellent opportunities to create partnerships with world-class debate trainers and programs that may help expand SPEAK’s curricular reach to different parts of the nation and the world.

Another such partnership established this quarter was with the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the Community Education Center (CEC) in Tel Aviv, Israel. This program was co-led by SPEAK professional liaisons Mariel Golden and Clarice Ahn. The pair worked hard to adapt SPEAK’s curriculum to the needs of students with English as a second language, a variety of educational experiences, and the professional goals of the program participants. The program was so successful that students wound up requesting additional sessions. SPEAK is excited to be able to work on these type of collaborative projects, as it expands our reach and allows us to target underserved populations outside of our immediate geographic area.

This was our first quarter after embarking towards declaring non-profit status, and there were several key organizational developments that occurred as our members worked to shift SPEAK from a student organization to a student-run non-profit incorporated in Vermont. We’ve expanded our program offerings from a single program at CRCF to offering local and international programs for high schoolers, undergraduate students, law students, and incarcerated individuals. Additionally, we’ve expanded the number of volunteers that operate within our organization from five to fifteen, not counting any of the professionals who have helped us to grow our organization or provided other types of in-kind support for SPEAK. In short, we are in a much stronger place organizationally than we were even six months ago, with much greater capacity to further expand our program offerings in the future.

Where Are We Going?

In the coming quarter, SPEAK has several developments to be excited about. First, we will continue our regular weekly programming at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. We have now been operating continuously at CRCF for nearly a year and a half, and we value maintaining our programming for the women in the facility. SPEAK provides CRCF participants with week-to-week training that allows them to challenges themselves in new ways and work on skills. For SPEAK, having this regular program provides us with an excellent opportunity to train less experienced instructors to teach debate. This coming session will be led by Isabella Olson from UVM and Tori Scozzaro from VLS, who have both been with the program since its inception.

Second, SPEAK is excited to embark on its first formal partnership with another Vermont non-profit, the Lund Family Center in South Burlington. Jessica Bullock and Charlotte Gliserman will be leading a full ten-week curriculum for women who live in the facility to promote work readiness and self-advocacy. The session will cuminate in a full debate on October 20. We’re very excited about the potential collaborations with the Lund Center in the future.

Finally, we would like to thank all of the important people who have worked so hard to make SPEAK so successful. There have been many essential consultants and contributors to this organization that have each left their own mark on the impact we have on our students. To each of you, thank you for your service, and we look forward to continuing to help people find strength in the power of their voices.

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