SpeakFirst

Many of Birmingham's most talented students find their potential compromised by a lack of rigorous academic opportunities. SpeakFirst uses academic debate as a platform to support these students and guide them on a path toward excellence in college and beyond.

  • % of students from the bottom quarter of lowest-earning U.S. families earning a college degree:
  • 8.6%
  • Every element of SpeakFirst addresses the deficits in low-income communities that impede students from being prepared for, and enrolling in, college.
  • Amount of college scholarships earned by 3 SpeakFirst graduates in 2016:
  • $173,640
  • UA, UAB, and UAHuntsville provide full-tuition scholarships to our seniors, and our students earn many more scholarships to nationally-ranked schools.
  • Number of debate practices in 2015-16:
  • 103
  • Our students practice three hours per day, three days per week to prepare for debate tournaments. Academic debate is widely accepted as the most valuable extracurricular activity to prepare kids for success in college.
  • % of rounds won by our juniors & seniors in 2015-16:
  • 50%
  • Our students compete and hold their own against the best schools in the state.

"A lot of the inequalities that exist in our education system come not from the fact that students don't take advantage of opportunities, but that they aren't offered in the first place. You can't expect a child to perform if she is given no opportunity to do so." --Jennifer Moore, 2014 Vanderbilt University Graduate & SpeakFirst Alumna

We are so proud to feature our debate success stories in the short films below.

BRITTANY: A SPEAKFIRST SUCCESS

Follow SpeakFirst student Brittany Grady's high school debating career and into college where she is excelling.

STATE CHAMPIONS

In 2016, we celebrated Brooklin & Christion's 1st Place finish at the Alabama State Debate Tournament!

JUNIORS ADVANCE TO NATIONAL TOURNAMENT

Two Junior Debaters Qualify for 2017 National Debate Tournament.

A $500 contribution sends a SpeakFirst student to one of their monthly out-of-town debate tournaments, as well as 18 hours of debate practice to hone their skills beforehand.

Current educational opportunities for many of Alabama's talented and motivated children are compromised by a poorly funded public school system and lack of educational choices outside of the classroom, which subsequently limits academic performance and achievement. As with many urban centers across the nation, the consequences of limited learning opportunities for Birmingham's most promising students can be devastating. Unless their educational experience is one that includes schools with extensive resources and a wide array of opportunities for extracurricular learning, their academic and social needs will not be fulfilled, and their chances of enrolling and excelling in college are significantly diminished.

Meet our SpeakFirst High School Team

SpeakFirst Middle School

The National Forensics League High School Debate Association has prioritized the development of middle school debate programs across the country, due to the array of exceptional skills that can be developed through participation in debate. In August 2013, SpeakFirst launched a citywide middle school debate league for Birmingham City students at six local schools (adding a seventh in 2014). The cognitive and non-cognitive skills developed through the SpeakFirst middle school debate initiative—research, writing, public speaking, perseverance, and commitment—will provide a strong foundation for these students as they prepare for high school and, ultimately, college.

More than 100 middle school students participate in the SpeakFirst Middle School Program each year, debating in four citywide tournaments annually. The top debaters earn $2,300 in college scholarships at the end of each season.

Impact Alabama Celebrates Successful First Year of SpeakFirst Middle School Debate League for Birmingham Students

SpeakFirst

SPEAKFIRST COLLABORATORS

Architecture Works provides in-kind space for our daily SpeakFirst practices during the academic year.

The University of Alabama has committed four-year, full-tuition scholarships to all SpeakFirst students who successfully complete three years of the program.

UAB has committed four-year, full-tuition scholarships to all SpeakFirst students who successfully complete three years of the program.

UAH has committed four-year, full-tuition scholarships to all SpeakFirst students who successfully complete three years of the program.

MAJOR SPEAKFIRST FUNDERS

Impact America, an AmeriCorps Program, is housed and supported by the Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility at The University of Alabama.  Additional office space is provided by UAB and Maynard, Cooper & Gale, PC.