Muir Middle School Students Participate in Annual Speech Competion

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First place went to Alex Diaz Cruz, who talked about "The Joy of Mexican Cuisine." In second place was Mona Gasparyan, whose speech was about "The Power of a Positive Attitude." In third was Anna Ohanyan, who gave a speech on "The Impact of Technology on Humanity (Photo by Edna Yeghnanyan)

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on 5/3/24 at 4 pm

Three words followed quickly by anxious stares from students, each trying to read the faces of the panel, attempting to call upon their telepathy skills and know their ranks instantly. At John Muir Middle School, their annual 8th grade speech competition was taking place, something that is completely unique to this small school. 

Started by Rod Rothacher in 2009 for his class and adopted by the entire school in 2015, its goal was to be a student-centered event. They do so by not only having students give speeches but also alumni students judge. 

The environment in the rivalry rooms (the library, auditorium, and teacher classrooms) lacked the hostility that could accompany the competitive nature of the event. Conversely, students were supportive of each other; they laughed at the presenter’s jokes, held each other’s props, and didn’t just clap out of politeness but cheered loudly out of excitement. 

The topics were distinct to each student, ranging from their favorite hobby, to social advocacy, and even the current state of El Salvador. Kids stated that the competition made them feel safe, and crucially, as though what they had to say mattered. 

(Photo by Edna Yeghnanyan)

As the champions of each class were announced, each student celebrated their achievement and that of their peers. In Rothacher’s class, Eoin Docherty Issari placed first with a speech about “Carpe Diem,” Joshua Ducore placed second talking about “Pressure,” and Garret Morberg-Nguyen placed third talking about “Death, Mortality, and Time.” 

In Mr. Norberg’s class, Grant Baker gave a first-place speech about “Living with Autism,” Ethan Crosby placed second with a speech titled “Rock Climbing,” and Karina Stepanyan placed third with her speech about “Loving Yourself.”

For Mrs. Walden’s class, Aisha Navel placed first with a speech about “Being Deaf in a Latinx Immigrant Hearing Family,” Sadie Sigala placed second with a speech about “Smiles,” and Nicholas Harutunian placed third with a speech about “Doing something you love.”

Last but not least, Mr. Riner’s class champion was Alex Diaz Cruz, who talked about “The Joy of Mexican Cuisine.” In second place was Mona Gasparyan, whose speech was about “The Power of a Positive Attitude.” In third was Anna Ohanyan, who gave a speech on “The Impact of Technology on Humanity.”

The speech competition enables a smooth transition into high school, teaching kids vital lessons in communication and public speaking. Burbank High School saw an influx of freshmen in their speech and debate club this year, all who participated in the Muir speech competition, all whose dedication was distinctly noted. By fostering an encouraging environment for self expression, Muir has cracked the code to long-term student achievement.

(Photo by Edna Yeghnanyan)

Public schools have long been at the lower half of State priority, and often, students all throughout the nation tell the same story of being locked out of upward social mobility as they are redlined into underfunded public schools. 

As leaders of the competition and long-time teachers at Muir, Rothacher and Riner elaborate on the development of the program, it might serve as a signal to the district and its other schools that it is one worth expanding. 

The program itself requires little funding, mainly just for the trophies and medals, and the Kiwanis of Burbank subsidizes those costs. It occurs only for 8th graders and is done in English classes. 

Preparation for the competition starts about five weeks before, and during this time, students decide, write, and memorize their speeches. The speech topics are up to students to choose, but they have to be approved by teachers to ensure school appropriateness and be no more than five minutes long. 

When deciding who advances to elimination rounds, the competition breaks once to semifinals, meaning they break the top half of competitors and once more to finals, again being the top half. Muir does it by hand, but there is also an online alternative called “Tabroom” that can be used. 

Judges are given a sheet and told to rank the top four speakers in a room, with the rest getting 5’s, and also provide them with speaker points. This is done so because in the case where speaker ranks are tied, breaks are done through points. On the bottom half of the sheet, there is a comment section for judges. After rounds are done, that portion of the sheet is cut and handed to the students to read. 

The running of the tournament is a lot to manage, but Rothacher and Riner do it nonetheless because it’s an important tradition that students look forward to. Muir has had another successful year with big help from the teachers who work so hard and the supportive administration.