By Karen Billing
Torrey Pines High School junior Jessica Williams started a Speech and Debate Club at Earl Warren Middle School this year as part of her efforts to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award.
The Girl Scout Gold Award is the highest achievement in the organization that challenges young women to make a difference. Jessica has taken the opportunity to make a difference in her own community, giving middle school students the confidence and skills to find and use their voices.
Jessica has been in Girl Scouts since kindergarten and has continued through high school; she is a member of Troop 1411, which has six members.
“It’s been a part of my life for so long, I like volunteering and the community events,” Jessica said.
In eighth grade, she earned her Girl Scout Silver Award, making care packages for the military. The cause was close to her heart as her father is in the Army.
At Torrey Pines, Jessica is the current vice president of the Speech and Debate Club and will be president next year. She also runs cross country and participates in Mock Trial and San Diego Teen Court, a program where students serve as peer jurors for youth convicted of minor crimes and determine sentencing or restitution, be it letters of apology or community service.
As speech and debate has been such a great part of her high school experience, she wanted to bring it to the middle school level. It impacted her life in such a big way, she knew that it would have been beneficial to have the opportunity to have started earlier in her middle school years.
“In middle school a lot of students struggle with giving presentations or even forming an opinion about things,” Jessica said, noting how much it would help students get a jumpstart on speech and debate before they reach high school. “Especially as a freshman, it’s hard to be yourself and express opinions. I think it’s a really good skill to have.”
The Gold Award is no easy process, it took Jessica about four months just to get her project approved by the council, going through multiple revisions. Once she had a plan she had to find a school to participate, selecting Earl Warren as the staff was very helpful and accommodating and the school is so closely connected to the Solana Beach Library where she could host her after-school club.
The weekly club started at the beginning of the school year and has about 15 students who regularly participate. Jessica receives assistance from two-to-five students from her high school team and together they prompt the students with extemporaneous speaking, play games and build different types of speeches. They also have debates on topics such as gun control or affirmative action — Jessica has the students do their own research and formulate arguments themselves just as they would in high school.
This year, several of Jessica’s students participated in the Del Mar/Solana Beach Optimist Club’s speech contest and Jessica was thrilled when one of her middle school students placed third, competing against high school students.
“I was really happy because I felt like I had made that opportunity for her to be a part of the competition,” Jessica said. “She has a natural talent.”
As part of her Gold Award project, she also has to create a website to help educate other middle schools on how they can get involved in speech and debate — she hopes more schools will take her lead.
The club ends this week and Jessica has enjoyed watching the students develop over the year. Jessica will continue to run the club during her senior year and is already recruiting underclassmen who can take over after she graduates.
She is hoping for the best for college and would love to get into an Ivy League school and major in something along the lines of political science, philosophy or psychology.
While the Gold Award process has been a challenge, Jessica said running the middle school club has been a lot of fun.
“I feel more part of the community almost because I see kids I work with around,” Jessica said. “It’s something I’m passionate about. And it’s probably my favorite part of the week. It’s nice to be able to work with kids and do something I really care about.”