South’s Most Influential

Every issue, South’s Most Influential places a spotlight on the opinion of an involved student.

Katie Kenner, Policy-Debate President

Before my sophomore year of high school, I viewed politics and community obligations as something intangible that wouldn’t affect me until some nebulous time in the future. But all of that changed once I began debating at GBS.

Through debate, I was forced to identify political issues that I cared about and then began to research how these policies work. At first, I was only motivated to look into policies just for the purpose of, honestly, winning. Yet, over time I felt a growing awareness that maybe, just maybe, things the government did would affect me.

I began to care about what lawmakers did and although I was only 15, I began to form a political ideology that I felt comfortable defending. My conversations over politics began to change. I could carry conversations with my teachers, parents and peers without stammering “Uhh I don’t know, I don’t really care about politics.” I was ready to contribute to discussions and I learned how to be more accepting of others opinions as well. With this new awareness came the weight of responsibility that I hadn’t felt previously.

Before I began my research on last year’s topic of China’s K-12 education policies, I had an idealized view of how schools worked. But through research, I found out how federal funding grants, under Title One, disproportionately give money to schools in need versus schools that are better off. Instead of more funds going to underserved schools, they go to wealthier ones.

Initially, I felt shocked and, in some ways, helpless over realizing the institutional boundaries to students’ success. Having grown up going to school in Glenview, I had never come to grips that I was a beneficiary of a system that failed students as close as 15 minutes away from me.

Because of this, I began to tutor kids from underserved schools at the local Youth Services so I could try to remedy some of the problems I had read about. This is by far the best decision I’ve made in high school. I developed close bonds with the girls I tutored and found that the brightest part of my week was hearing about their days and helping them with whatever homework they had. They were optimistic and never failed to help me put all of my struggles into perspective.

 Without debate, I definitely wouldn’t have been prompted to find a way to take action within my community. I firmly believe debate doesn’t stop at learning argumentation. The benefits from debate never really stop. I’ve gained invaluable public speaking and research skills and made close friends. But at the end of the day, I’ve become a better citizen. So, I hope to turn the lesson I learned over to you now: reap the benefits GBS’ organizations have to offer, and use what you learn to get involved in a cause you truly care about.