By Lennard Fink, English Teacher
Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School (STS) is unique in many ways; certainly one aspect setting us apart is the culture of public speaking that exists within our community, with its onset in Elementary School. It is a commonly known fact that many people fear public speaking more than death, but you will not hear STS students sharing this sentiment, due to the culture of public speaking that has evolved over our long history. In context with STS, culture refers to the institutional norm that public speaking is an expectation ranging from students engaging in oral presentations in classes, to students being the master of ceremonies at Senior School Prizegiving. STS provides many opportunities for students to speak, in a variety of formats, allowing them to develop confidence and poise with their public speaking.
One of the reasons STS students are confident public speakers is that their preparation and practice starts early on and sets them up for success. For example, the Grade 6 class present their Primary Years Programme (PYP) Exhibition projects to a panel of judges who are leaders in the external community. Students speak on behalf of a variety of non-profit organizations supporting vulnerable groups in the Calgary region. The purpose of the Exhibition is to convince the panel of judges that the organization the students are supporting is deserving of a donation of five thousand dollars from the Calgary Foundation. Thus, at a young age, STS students understand the power of words and, more importantly, they have learned how to deliver those words to create a voice for those whose voices are too often not heard.
Another component of STS that sets us apart is the size of our speech and debate club in Middle and Senior School, which is the second largest club in Alberta (only Western Canada High School, with a population of over 2,200 students tops us in numbers). Each year, we have a large number of excited Grade 7 students eager to join speech and debate, due to a large extent to their exposure to public speaking in The Ultimate Speaking Club (TUSC) in Elementary School. The speech and debate programs continue to grow because of the success our students experience at local, provincial, national, and international tournaments. Our students excel on the public stage. At the last provincial tournament, a coach from another school commented on how “the calibre of public speaking has improved across Calgary schools and this was in part due to the competitive level that STS students bring to the tournaments raising the bar for all students.” Our strong showing at prestigious events across Canada, and the world, has gained STS recognition as a top school in speech and debate.
STS is fortunate to have The C.A. Smith Arts Centre, a theater that can house our entire school body, something that is rare across the world for a school our size. This allows us to come together as a community to celebrate our achievements from Kindergarten to Grade 12. At our recognition assemblies, held in the late fall and spring, it is our students who speak to the entire school body displaying their achievements throughout the term. Each year our Elementary School students are inspired when they hear Middle and Senior School students speaking, and look to have the same opportunities when they move into those divisions. Likewise, our Middle and Senior School students are inspired by the poise and confidence of their younger peers. It is truly a symbiotic relationship.
Without a doubt, it is clear that public speaking in all formats continues to distinguish our school and students. Many of our graduates are aware that their successes come from the opportunities STS provided for them in terms of debate and public speaking, and they will no doubt agree that it all started here.