For those who attended, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Forensics Competition was one of the best shows on the peninsula last weekend. Tustumena Elementary School hosted the district-wide Feb. 27 competition during which fourth-sixth graders performed a range of comedic and dramatic sketches, poetry and prose.
All seven McNeil Canyon Elementary students who participated placed in their categories: first place in sixth grade interpretive reading, multiple students; first place in fifth grade interpretive reading, multiple students; first place in sixth grade story telling; and third place in fourth grade non-humorous prose.
In addition to their first place win, Sailey Rhodes, Neviya Reed and Melanie Morris received the highest point total in the competition, said McNeil Canyon Forensics Team Coach Bill Noomah. The high score reflects the work they put into preparing their piece, “Those Darn Squirrels,” for the sixth grade interpretive reading with multiple students category.
“They created that text by creating a children’s book into that reader’s theatre. They had a lot of investment into that piece,” Noomah said.
McNeil Canyon was the only lower Kenai Peninsula school in attendance at the competition. More than 120 students competed from 14 different schools across the district. Ninety awards in 27 categories were given out at the competition.
In between sessions, the halls of Tustemena were jam-packed with parents and students weaving their way through the crowds to get to their assigned classrooms. Once inside the classroom, kids recited Longfellow from memory and made the audience laugh with comical stories about an old man who despised the squirrels in his yard, and even recreated Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First?”
Students performed their pieces over the course of two sessions in front of judges, fellow competitors and supportive parents. Judges then conferred and turned in their scores for display in the gymnasium after the session. Winners who wished to give an encore performed in the library after the second session.
McNeil Canyon students spent an hour and a half each week for the last seven weeks working with coaches Noomah and Melon Purcell, in addition to countless hours at home, Noomah said. The elective after-school program began with public speaking practice drills: how to start, how to make a finish, articulation skills, posture. In the last month before the competition, the kids focused more on their individual pieces. The coaches encouraged the students to select their own pieces, though they have a few tried and true pieces on hand if a child is having difficulty choosing. However, students care more for and work harder on pieces that they have more of a hand in choosing and creating, Noomah said.
Overall, the goal of the forensics team is not just to win in the competition, but also to help students gain ease and confidence in public speaking for their future careers.
“Adults — no matter what their profession is — they’ll say the least satisfying part of their job is talking in front of people. In many professions, adults need to speak in front of their colleagues,” Noomah said. “So we try to make that connection for kids, that the more practice you have, the easier time you’ll have speaking in front of others. It’s really gratifying to see kids have the confidence to stand in front of people and conquer a little of that discomfort.”
McNeil Canyon winners:
Sixth grade interpretive reading, multiple, first place: Sailey Rhodes, Neviya Reed and Melanie Morris
Fifth grade interpretive reading, multiple, first place: Jenna Lapp and Hannah Stonorov
Sixth grade story telling, first place: Mariah McGuire
Fourth grade non-humorous prose, singles, fourth place: Charity Martin