Created in 2005 as a 501(c)3 non-profit, the BDL has grown from a small, volunteer-driven organization to a prominent education initiative embraced by senior BPS leadership, including the Superintendent and the Boston School Committee. Thanks to a significant investment from the school system, the BDL has expanded to 31 BPS middle schools and high schools and now serves over 900 students in Middle School, High School English, and High School Spanish divisions.
The Boston Debate League’s programming is unique among the city’s after-school and other youth development programs in that it targets middle and high school students and blends competition and fun with rigorous academic work. While many programs aim only to keep teens safe and occupied in the afternoon, debate provides an engaging, educational opportunity that actively cultivates social and academic skills. The BDL presents debate in a variety of ways so as to reach a broad spectrum of students, from those already highly achieving to those who are off-track academically and at risk of dropping out.
Our initiatives include:
The centerpieces of the BDL are six citywide debate tournaments held throughout the school year. A BDL debate tournament is a rigorous, intense academic competition that can last up to twenty hours over two days. In teams of two, BPS students argue for and against public policy proposals on issues ranging from science to economics to politics and government. For many students, tournaments are rare opportunities to connect intellectually with their peers, and to have their ideas about important issues considered seriously by adults. Such an experience has a powerful effect on a student’s self-esteem and interest in education.
In each participating high school, teachers run after-school practices for a minimum of three hours per week, training students to compete against other teams.
Summer Debate Institute
Each summer, the Boston Debate League organizes a free debate institute to prepare students for the upcoming season and provide professional development for teachers. The summer program is supplemented by student and teacher training seminars throughout the school year.
To help teachers become more effective debate coaches, the Boston Debate League provides professional development and technical support, based on best practices compiled from across the National Urban Debate League network. The League Director runs practices at member schools to model effective teaching, develops curriculum, and works with teachers individually to help them hone their craft.