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At Parkway Center City High School in Philadelphia last year, two shy students reluctantly enrolled in a pilot after-school debate program.

After disappointing performances at a spring tournament at Drexel University, the two students went to the Philadelphia Debate Institute's week-long summer program.

By the end of the program, founded in 2005 by current College senior Alexander McCobin, the students were outgoing and articulate - one even petitioning to rearrange his current schedule to fit in more philosophy courses.

Inspired by this success, McCobin launched Penn for Youth Debate on campus in September with the intent of promoting debate education in the greater-Philadelphia area.

Club members reach nine high schools and one junior high school in the city.

The club serves as a branch of Perspectives Debate, Inc., a program he founded with Harvard senior Lilly Deng two years ago.

Last year, McCobin ran a pilot program at five high schools across Philadelphia, noting that no organization had ever attempted such a program.

Most of the now 30 volunteers were well known on the national debate circuit as high-school students and want to share their experiences with local participants.

College freshman Ali Huberlie, who participates in PYD, said the students are really benefiting from the program.

"One senior [high-school] student said [the debate program] has given him the confidence to submit an application to Penn," she said.

Student volunteers venture into the classrooms for two to three hours each week and typically teach about 10 students, although some classrooms have up to 20. Volunteers teach the fundamentals of the Lincoln-Douglass debate, and students learn how to examine an issue from both sides.

PYD is holding its own tournament on campus on Dec. 1.

"Our mission is to make the tournament affordable for every student to attend," said College sophomore Katie Poulos, who is co-directing the tournament.

"We want to change students lives and not just go through the motions. We want more students in the program and want these students to get into college, gain scholarships and get jobs," McCobin said.

Every two months, the students receive different topics to debate, assigned by the National Forensics League. The current topic is "in the U.S., plea bargaining and exchange for testimony is unjust," and last month's was the death penalty.

"Many students are familiar with the topic, but we will definitely be introducing [students] to new terms and explaining how the judicial system works," Poulos said.

"Debate doesn't have to be some nerdy thing that only people who are really book-smart" participate in, she said. "Everyone can benefit from debate experience because it teachers you how to analyze issues and think critically."

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