Today I visited Summerfield Elementary School where I was one of five judges for an AL (Advanced Learner) speech contest. Thirteen 4th and 5th graders gave 2-3 minute persuasive speeches on a topic of their choice. The subjects ranged from advocating for less homework and more vending machines to arguing in favor of a flat tax and that professional athlete salaries should be capped at two million dollars. One spoke on the wetlands, one on what she saw as the excessive media exposure of the VA-Tech murders, and one girl on why PG-13 movies are related to real-life teenage violence.
I was blown away. All of the kids used quotes and statistics. Several of them spoke practically notes free. And all of them were audible with decent eye contact. If I had one across the board suggestion to make, it would be for the kids to smile, but I'm sure they were nervous and when that happens the smile is usually the first thing to go.
What I found most intriguing was that--whether they were the "best" speaker or not--it was easy to tell which kids had a real passion for their subject and which kids were just saying the words. The girl who spoke out against excessive media coverage for the VA Tech shootings was adamant that all the exposure must have really hurt the families involved and served no purpose. The child who wanted healthy vending machines in the school made several excellent points about national obesity and kicked off with a humorous example about how she forgot her snack last Tuesday and so went hungry until 1 pm. (Her teacher pointed out the principal was in the audience, so the girl's speech was timely!)
Even though it meant getting up early and putting on "real" person's clothes and driving 25 minutes, I wouldn't have missed it. I was thoroughly entertained by each and every speech and I rated 3 of the kids a perfect score. A great way to start my day.