The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024

Urban debate uplifts DISD, helps SMU

The Dallas Independent School District has a graduation rate of 43 percent.

Thirty-two percent of all Dallas teens will end up in prison. Four percent of West Dallas high school seniors read at a 12th grade level.

DISD’s problems have been difficult for policymakers, intellectuals and teachers to solve.

Within the last decade, the district has also had to confront fiscal scandals and money mismanagement.

For SMU and its Second Century Campaign, DISD — the university’s local school district — is critical for campus enrichment and diversity.

Prestigious universities like the University of Chicago and the London School of Economics have immersed themselves into the local community.

The University of Chicago has established scholarship funds and outreach programs for its inner-city students.

As SMU hopes to move up the academic rankings, it will need to follow the models established by other top schools.

“DISD needs to improve, and SMU needs to see what is working and help the process,” Andrew Flores, a DISD alumnus and current community college student, said. “I graduated in the top percentile of my class and I couldn’t dream of coming to SMU.”

Most experts say that the problem with low matriculation rates is the lack of students like Flores.

A majority of DISD students are not prepared for the academic pressue at Tier 1 universities.

“The real challenge for me and my peers was training us to avoid the academic performance gap between elementary school and high school and putting us in the right situation to succeed,” Flores said.

Beneath all the rubble rests the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy at B.F. Darrell.

The school is based around the concept of training individuals for a career in service, inspirational oratory and public affairs.

A visit to the junior high reveals an aura of discipline and cordiality.

Students, instead of teachers, present class curriculums to visitors. Students formally introduce themselves — handshake and all — to every new person they see in the hallways.

The non-traditional school employs a fitness gym with treadmills and weights instead of the usual football field for athletic activity.

At the heart of the school, Brian Hennig and his debate team practice concepts foreign to most — disadvantages, counterplans and critiques.

His debate team travels around the state to present arguments on complicated topics like alternative energy proliferation and the Senate’s political capital with the American people.

“Speech and debate helps kids in so many ways. Complex concepts help with my students in their English and history classes,” Hennig said. “Teachers always comment on how my students are able to think critically.”

Students who participate in some form of competitive speech and debate have seen increases in literacy scores, grade point averages and attendance rates.

“I feel like debate gives me an advantage over all my peers in and out of the classroom,” Mario Gutierrez, a junior varsity debater, said.

Obama Leadership Academy students plan to participate in debate at the high school level.

“I want to do this when I get older, and maybe it will turn into a future career for me,” Gutierrez said.

The importance of debate and inner-city activism is a sentiment shared by the SMU debate team.

“I have seen so many students come to the realization that there is more after high school,” Tyler Murray, SMU debate captain, said. “When I work with kids on debate strategies, I want to make them believe that it is something within reach.”

University participation is necessary to keep underfunded programs in DISD schools viable in the long run.


“I used to work at an affluent school district, and we had a huge budget,” Hennig said. “When I came to work in DISD, I didn’t even have a budget to work with. I can’t just go out and hire help or buy supplies for the team.”

SMU students regularly volunteer with debate programs in DISD to supplement a lack of human capital, resources and funding.

“We host small debate tournaments and are always available as mentors to debaters that want the help,”Murray said.

SMU, DISD and inner-city extracurricular programs are increasingly dependent on each other.

“I hope that SMU students and faculty start reaching out even more to DISD. The district really needs a lot of aid. When the district benefits, we benefit,” Murray said.

Murray, a student who has volunteered with DISD debate programs for more than three years, understands that SMU needs quality students to fill its future classes.

“As we become a leading university, we cannot leave our local district behind.” 

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