When Dania Toth learned that Durham Public Schools lacked a single high school debate team, she was only in her first semester at Duke. But she didn’t think twice about getting a team started.
First she got permission from Durham School of the Arts to set up a team, in the fall of 2008. By December she had four student recruits. In the spring she ran regular practices, along with more recruiting sessions. And by the start of this academic year, the DSA Debate Team was 19 students strong and ready for tournaments. The fast pace didn’t seem unusual to Toth.
“I came from a program that was started by a college guy fresh out of UNC,” said Toth, who graduated from East Chapel Hill High School in 2008. “So I followed his lead, starting from the ground up and begging for any support we could get.”
That included support from Duke’s Office of Community Affairs: initial support getting the idea off the ground; funding from the Doing Good in the Neighborhood employee-giving campaign; and help recruiting volunteer coaches and judges.
Toth’s long-term goals for the team range from finding a successor for when she graduates, to starting a booster club for steady funding, to sending her students to the prestigious debate tournament at Harvard University next February.
Her motivation lies in the impact that she can see the debate team already having on her DSA students: the way they present themselves, their understanding of political concepts, and the strength of their writing and reasoning. That’s why Toth hopes to not only see the DSA debate team thrive, but to see other teams take root in Durham high schools.
“Debate helps students academically, it helps them professionally, and it improves your chances of getting into college — not only because you have those skills, but because it’s such a highly respected activity.”
The team’s next debate tournament will be January 9 and 10 in Charlotte.