So far, 2018 has been a year of change and continuity. Johannes Wheeldon was hired this spring, as Executive Director. Johannes brings experience and passion to SPEAK. Founder, Jessica Bullock will stay on as President of the SPEAK Board of Directors. While a record number of programs were delivered this spring, SPEAK continues to be a resource for the power of debate to change minds and expand perspective, locally, nationally, and internationally. We cannot do this work without our volunteers, community partners, and participants. Thank you!
We are excited to share our most recent accomplishments.
Where We’ve Been
SPEAK Welcomes New Executive Director, Johannes Wheeldon - On behalf of the SPEAK Board of Directors, we are pleased to announce that our organization has hired Johannes Wheeldon as our next Executive Director. Johannes has been involved with SPEAK since its inception and has worked with SPEAK on a variety of projects, including policy and procedures, strategic planning, curriculum review, fundraising, and developing new partnerships. Prior to joining the SPEAK team, Johannes worked with the American Bar Association, World Bank, and Soros Foundation. His work on debate and dialogue, both in the United States and abroad, has been featured in documentaries and published in book form. We are thrilled to have Johannes on board as SPEAK’s Executive Director, and we look forward to continuing to grow and improve SPEAK’s programs with his guidance.
Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation Grant- Speak was awarded a $2000 grant in March to support our work at the Woodside Juvenile and Chittenden Regional Correctional Facilities, and to develop new programs to engage high school students throughout Vermont. The Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation was an early supporter of SPEAK and has provided grants to community organizations across the Upper Valley and on both sides of the Connecticut River since 2003. SPEAK is grateful for the support of this prestigious foundation.
Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility (CRCF) – This semester, Jessica Bullock ran our program at CRCF. The program included our core curriculum as well as a session on applying professional skills and participating in mock interviews following the final debate. Students focused on the question of whether the government should provide medication assisted treatment (suboxone, methodone, etc.) to all incarcerated individuals and individuals transitioning into and out of correctional settings. The final debate was held for more than 20 audience members including students and instructors. In a close vote, the CON side won the debate. One student, who said that she would NOT be debating at the beginning of the course, spoke on the Opposition Team at the end of the session and won the debate! This was surprising, as most of the CRCF SPEAK participants and audience members, many of whom had personal experience with addiction, the detox process, and incarceration, were personally in favor of the prop policy. Following the debate, the audience had the opportunity to give impromptu speeches. One person stood and spoke on the prop side, brining a new and valuable perspective. The students were enthusiastic about the possibility of a summer semester program!
Woodside Juvenile Correctional Facility – Our Woodside program this quarter was run by Johannes Wheeldon. Two groups of students met once a week for eight weeks. The classes were lively as students engaged with the SPEAK curriculum. Woodside educators and staff expressed appreciation for the program and shared the growth of individual students, who worked to find ways to ensure their opinions could be justified. The students selected two debate topics and chose to debate whether Vermont should change the legal age to consume alcohol and marijuana to 18. Staff, students, and educators attended the final debate, asked questions, and reflected on the work the students did to build upon their public speaking and debate skills. The comments and feedback given by students was overwhelmingly positive. There is continued interest from both students and staff for SPEAK to return once again.
Hartford Community Restorative Justice Center (WRJ) – We continued our partnership with the Restorative Justice Center, which allows us to continue providing instruction to individuals who have been released from correctional facilities. Students in this program are obligated to attend per their agreements with the Justice Center, in contrast to our programs on the inside which are completely voluntary. The program culminated in a debate on the motion “This house believes that legalization of marijuana will have a positive impact in Vermont.” Students reported using skills learned through the program at recent job interviews and feeling more comfortable with their communication skills.
Leadership Upper Valley - Leadership Upper Valley brings together Upper Valley residents in existing and evolving leadership roles once a month on different issues ranging from business to economics to criminal justice to give them the insights, relationships, and service perspective they need to succeed and make a difference in the Upper Valley. We were excited to partner with LUV for their criminal justice seminar. With the help of VLS Prof. Bobby Sand, we offered instruction at the Springfield Correctional Facility. This program had approximately 35 students and culminated with the debate, “This House would legalize all drugs.”
Lund Family Center – We returned for the second time to the Lund Family Center, which offers our volunteers opportunities to work with young mothers on improving their public speaking and communication skills. This program offers a host of different challenges that we do not face at our other programs, such as students having to care for their children while participating in the program.
ANU-Prisoners Aid in Australia - Prisoners Aid ACT, in partnership with SPEAK and Australia National University (ANU) Debating, is developing a prison debate program for detainees in the Alexander Maconochie Centre in Canberra, Australia. The program is designed to be a six-week intensive teaching basic debating tactics to participants, culminating in a show debate at the end of the six weeks. The program recently completed a pilot program at ANU culminating with the motion “This House Would form the parliament by random lottery.” We look forward to sharing more as they begin their programming at the correctional center!
Spirit of the Lawrence Debate Union – SPEAK Founder Jessica Bullock was honored by UVM’s Lawrence Debate Union with the annual Spirit of the LDU award at their recent awards banquet. The award is given to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the organization and helped to promote the spread of debate and public speaking. The award was previously given to former assistant coach Jillian Marty, who stewarded the LDU after the passing of Dr. Tuna Snider, and to Dean William Falls, who made sure that the organization had sufficient funding to continue its mission during the transition between directors. The LDU honors Jessica for the support that she has given student debaters in a variety of capacities, from coaching to providing volunteer opportunities through SPEAK. Congratulations Jessica!
Where We’re Going
Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility – As the semester finishes and our student volunteers disperse, so too does our ability to lead the large number of programs that we were able to this spring. We will, of course, continue with our regular programming at CRCF under the leadership of Executive Director Johannes Wheeldon. Our summer sessions typically try to incorporate new skill building sessions focused on professional skills that our students can use post-release from prison. Following the completion of our spring program, students were eager from another opportunity to participate in another full curriculum. We are excited to see the new topics and ideas that they bring to the program this summer!
Fundraising - This summer, we will are seeking support to continue our existing programming and build on our community partnership. Based on the model we developed with the Vermont Institute for Natural Science (VINS), this means working with organizations and companies in Vermont to use debate skills to assist staff, members, and the broader community. These partnerships allow us to deliver SPEAK curricula to community members while raising funds to continue our programing in correctional settings. You can support out work by making a donation to reduce travel costs for our volunteers and ensure that each of our programs has the materials it needs. We cannot do our work without our wonderful volunteers.
Thank you for your support as we continue to promote powerful voices across Vermont and around the world.
A $50 donation supports one student to participate in an eight-week course.
A $30 donation reduces travel expenses for our student volunteers.
A $15 donation will support materials for one student to participate in an eight-week course.