The AHA debate team, who are members of the Bergen County Debate League, focus on one central topic for the season every year. Each group, which is made up of two people, is given a particular aspect of that topic to defend. However, the teams vary on arguing the defensive or the offensive.
The offensive team is given no time to prepare and must learn to think on the spot, and create a valid argument. "All you have are books and a few quotes," said Maya Saoud, 16.
This year's topic, in light of present current events, is why "The United States government should establish a foreign policy substantially increasing support of United Nations' peacekeeping operations."
"You and your partner have one topic for the entire year, you pick an issue you have to deal with," said Sandy Shahbazian, 16.
"We've done so much from mental health care to ocean policy, and now U.N. Peacekeeping," said Maya. The AHA debate team is an after-school program that meets every Friday.
"My sister [an AHA graduate] had done it and she really liked it, and I thought this is pretty interesting," said Sandy. "We've been doing this since freshman year."
"I didn't know they had a debate team when I got here," said Maya. "During an open house, representatives from the team came to talk to us, and it sounded so interesting."
The teams participate in about seven debates a year, switching between the negative and the positive side. "It's really fun to do the initial research you learn so much more about current events, government, and everyday things," said Sandy. "And it's fun to argue."
"Towards the beginning there's a lot of work involved, but once you have it, it's really fun," said Maya.
During each meet, the sets of teams go through two debates; one for the positive side and one for the negative. They win a medal is if the team wins both debates. Approximately 10 sets of teams are allowed to participate from each school. At the very start of the season, however, the Academy of Holy Angels sends their most tenured and experienced debate teams. For the first debate of the season, the program only sent four sets of teams.
"There are a certain number of teams you can send," said Sandy. "At the first debate we had four teams go to Tenafly High School, and they all medaled."
For the following debates, the girls expect to fill up all 10 spots. Last Monday was their third debate. Sandy was arguing demilitarization in order to prevent the illicit trade of smaller and light weapons. "We've learned so much about all these problems, and issues that we didn't know about," said Sandy.
Debating other schools
For the most part the same sets of teams don't debate each other more than once, although it has happened on occasion. The teams usually hold the debates with other schools that are close to their vicinity.
"You rarely get paired up with the same people because there's a lot out of all Bergen County," said Sandy.
For the most part, these girls have stayed in private schools.
"I feel it's more welcoming in the community of a Catholic school, and their academics are more challenging," said Sandy, who first attended St. Francis Academy in Union City. "My sister came to this school, and I feel it's getting me prepared for college better than any other school. It's such a nice environment."
"The uniform is like our second skin," said Maya.
Maya had first heard about the Academy of the Holy Angels when she was in the sixth grade, and had kept it in the back of her mind until it was time to apply to high schools. What really ended up as the deciding factor for Maya was the day of the open house. There was a program where the girls with the most school spirit and enthusiasm gave the tours, and explained all about the workings of the school. Maya was so impressed by the program and hoped to join it herself, which she eventually did.
"That sold me, and I didn't even look at any other schools, actually," said Maya.
Unlike the public school system, private high schools require an application, test scores and an interview process.
"I do have a lot of friends in public school, and there's really not that process of applying to get in," said Maya. "In a Catholic school you have to work for it, especially this school because it's so competitive. Everyone strives to do better, and we like the all-girl environment."
According to the girls, being a part of the debate team at the Academy of the Holy Angels has helped them personally and academically. It has helped them become better informed and confident people, especially in regards to public speaking. As far as their academics the training, their speechwriting skills have also helped them in writing term papers and expressing their points more thoroughly. They would also like to continue debating in college, even though their fields of study may differ.
"I want to go into musical theatre at the Catholic University in Washington D.C.," said Sandy. "They have a good program, and they also have the number one debate team in the country. They just beat Princeton."