Middle School Speech Competition Brings New Viewpoints to Light

The Middle School Speech Contest is a more than 40 year old tradition at Poly. When Dr. Robert Farrar was hired 28 years ago, he was tasked with researching, documenting, and presenting the speech contest. All eighth-grade students create an original three-and-a-half to five-minute persuasive speech drawing on skills learned from the unit. 

The entire eighth grade class of more than 70 students present their speeches and are judged by their peers and faculty. Five students per class present in the semi-finals. The judges, five to seven Poly teachers, assess the top seven students that move to the final round presented in Founders’ Hall. Five to eight judges, including outside judges and the previous year's winner, determine the top winner in the finals. This year's winner was Iris G. ’26 who presented on the importance of ethnic studies in schools in independent schools.

“Her speech was on the importance of ethnic studies for students that attend schools similar to Poly. She did a phenomenal job presenting documentation that shows how ethnic studies classes are being bucked by individuals that would view it as a form of critical race theory,” said Dr. Farrar. 

Iris shared that she has been participating in debate since seventh grade and the experience helped her prepare for the contest in which she balanced audience engagement with statistics.

"I believe ethnic studies is very important, and since I saw more public schools and universities moving towards teaching it, I wanted to argue why private schools should also teach ethnic studies," said Iris. "Additionally, with recent events in the Middle School, I was sure ethnic studies was something everyone could benefit from learning." You can read Iris's full speech here.

In early rounds, students are allowed to use notecards or one 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper to guide their presentations. By the final round, however, they are expected to have memorized the speech. They are judged on persuasion, adherence to time, and topic selection. Other interesting speeches included the ethics of genetically modified food and restructuring the electoral college.

We look forward to more thought-provoking speeches by our Poly eighth-graders for years to come.