At the Bay Area Urban Debate League, our debaters are frequently in the spotlight, yet some of our hardest working and dedicated individuals work behind the scenes, the students, and the trophies: our coaches. Formal journalists, energetic teachers, devoted after school coordinators, professionals who traverse the bay to volunteer — we have an eclectic, talented group of people advocating for our students.
Two individuals who embody the mission statement of BAUDL are Tracey Burns and Gena Barsotti of Emiliano Zapata Street Academy in Oakland. Both teachers at Street Academy, they spend their weekends (both at tournaments and to host workshops!) and after-school hours polishing the arguments of a small, yet mighty team. The two explain how they got started with BAUDL and what keeps them coaching:
How long have you been an educator?
Tracey Burns: I have been an educator for all my life, but an official one for 9 years. I teach English Literature, writing and quilting at Street Academy.
Gena Barsotti: I have been teaching a year and a half. I teach History, debate, and drama at Street Academy.
How did you get started with BAUDL?
TB: I debated in LD for Oakland Tech and founded the Junior Statesmen program there as well, so when [BAUDL Board Member Dmitri Seals] came over a year ago, it was an automatic “yeah!” I was always interested in bringing debate to the classroom.
GB: When I started at Street Academy, Tracey requested that I be a co-coach. Although I did not know the technical side of debate since I did not do it in high school, I became really interested in the social studies perspective. How do we solve social issues? For me, it is not about winning, it is about the social justice focus we have at Street Academy and discussing social issues!
What is the most rewarding part of coaching a debate team?
TB: Getting students interested and having them ask questions, wanting to know more, wanting to learn something and being eager to research.
GB: Many times, students who do not excel in a traditional academic environment turn out to really enjoy debate. Students can become academically successful because they feel like they are not ignored and can do well in their classes.
Do you have a specific moment or debate memory that is your favorite?
TB: There are so many moments, but we have one student that has clung on to debate. Debate has been the only thing keeping him in school. Now, he is a better student and he knows that he can do it.
GB: Like Tracey mentioned, we have a student who loves debate and has improved academically — he made the Honor Roll for the first time. Also, watching the students function as a team is great. We do not have to lecture our students to come to practice, workshops, or tournaments. They do it themselves because they are a team, a family — their brother’s keeper. We hold our students to high standards and they know to keep their word. They understand that when they make a commitment, there is not just an “I”. There are others involved too.