Boston Debate League

History of
After-School Debate

Over the last decade, the After-School Debate program has grown into one of the largest extracurricular opportunities in the City of Boston.

Only 25 students competed in the first year, but now over 5,000 students have completed over the past 15 years. The hard work of debaters and coaches throughout the city has made all of this possible. At tournaments, debaters use college-level texts to argue about the intricacies of government policies, the economy, philosophy, critical race theory, and everything in between. The BDL has worked with the Boston Public Schools’ Office of English Language Learners and schools with the highest percentages of ELLs in Boston to ensure that all students have access to debate. 

The competitive incentive in debate means that BDL debaters often make greater strides in improving reading and language skills than their peers. The BDL purposefully makes IEP-based accommodations in competition and works with BPS schools dedicated to inclusive learning to make sure debate is accessible to students with special needs. BDL debaters have achieved academic success in their K-12 education and in college – graduating high school at a higher rate than their peers, earning scholarships, and attending elite institutions. 

BDL alumni apply the skills, insights, and perspectives they gained through their debate experiences to their careers — working in a variety of professions — and to engaging with their communities and the world around them. BDL debaters and alumni have notably led change-making efforts in their communities in many ways: spearheading school walkouts, leading community meetings, and representing their peers at conferences and in local government.

“I remain involved with the BDL because of the life-lasting experience it taught me about not only myself but my community. The organization provides students a platform as well as the materials they need to advocate for change and fight injustice in our daily lives.”

GeMeisha James, former debater from TechBoston Academy