Thursday, June 23 2022

Students at Roslyn and Willingdon Elementary “clashed” for all the right reasons on April 26 as they took part in a virtual debate over whether or not children under the age of 16 should be allowed to use the social media.

The two schools fielded junior (5th grade) and senior (6th grade) teams who debated against their peers according to the Canadian parliamentary structure, in which the proposing and opposing teams each had six minutes to argue their case, followed by a six-minute intervening segment, and three minutes for closing arguments. In addition to their respective arguments, both sides were encouraged to ‘clash’ with each other’s point of view using counter-arguments.

“It was very important for us to work as a learning community and to acquire this knowledge as a team,” said Dr. Camelia Birlean, Consultant of Gifted and Exceptional Learners at the English Montreal School Board (EMSB). “We all celebrated each student’s learning.”

Willingdon’s proposal team of Zoe Flanagan, Jaya Pasquero and Marley Corina Cowper ultimately won the junior debate over Roslyn’s Amilcar Melile Vawda, Oliver Lee and Zack Crosbie, while Roslyn’s opposition team of Kieran Smalley and Alessia Di Gennaro edged out their Willingdon. senior competitors Louise Sullivan, Taiya Bernard and Alison Driver. Winners received $25 gift cards to Indigo, and all other entrants won $15 gift cards.

The final debate was the culmination of a three-month debate and public speaking enrichment program originally designed by Dr. Birlean in collaboration with Kiana Saint Macary, President of the McGill Debating Union. The program is for strong learners who achieve an average of 90% or higher and need an extra challenge.

“Students are selected based on their strengths,” Dr. Birlean said. “Teachers name their strong learners who enjoy participating in class discussions and, most importantly, are avid readers, able to miss formal instruction once a week without impairing their learning.”

Students from both schools were coached by Sarah Lubbe, teacher and master’s student in inclusive education at McGill. The selected students took part in weekly sessions at their respective schools, with the students performing public speeches among themselves in preparation for the semi-final and final debate.

“We tried to find the most important skills students need to build convincing arguments,” Dr. Birlean said. “You must be able to research valid and reliable sources, take notes effectively, organize information, think critically, listen actively and work in a team.”

The program has been well received by teachers, parents and students. The positive feedback sparked a second debate, to be held between students at Dunrae Gardens Elementary and Gardenview in June.

Dr. Birlean has big plans for the program, which enters its second year in the fall.

“Beginning next year, I hope to commercialize the program even more using the actual data and results that we have compiled,” Dr. Birlean said. “The skills developed during this program are not only useful for debate, but for everyday learning. Every student will benefit from these skills.

About the English Montreal School Board

With a population of over 35,000 students in the youth and adult sector, the English-Montreal School Board (EMSB) is the largest English-speaking public school board in Quebec. Established on July 1, 1998, when the province created new boards based on linguistic criteria, the EMSB network has 77 schools and centres. For more details, visit the EMSB website at

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