By Jennifer Schlueter
In March, Gabrielino High School’s Screamin’ Eagles speech team qualified 17 students for the world’s largest academic competition, the National Speech and Debate Association’s 90th annual National Championship Tournament in Dallas this summer. Gabrielino High can be viewed as a successful underdog because of its lower socio-economic status compared to other participating usually-wealthier schools.
Established along with Gabrielino High School, and founded by today’s Principal Sharron Heinrich, Gabrielino’s Screamin’ Eagles have constantly ranked among the top teams nationally for the past decade. The team has grown to be the fourth largest in the nation and ranked as the Top Program in Southern California from 2001 to 2011, in 2013 and 2015. Competitions range from oral presentations in dramatic, duo, or thematic interpretations, impromptu speaking, expository, to debates and more.
Students at Gabrielino join the speech class, an elective led by teacher Derek, often in their freshman year – some with experience from middle school. Current speech team co-captain Jonathan, a senior, said he hoped to overcome his fear of giving presentations by participating. Jonathan’s performance partner, junior Giselle, enjoys being in front of people and was inspired by her friends who took speech classes and a show case. Most of their peers were afraid of public speaking before they joined. Funny enough, they fear talking to their class mates rather than a large group of strangers, explains Derek.
Highly motivated, Giselle, Jonathan, and the other students often sacrifice after-school time and weekends voluntarily to join competitions. State tournaments offer scholarships worth up to $300, whereas nationwide winners can receive $5,000 to $10,000. Derek notes that a majority of the kids go on to the best colleges or move up to high ranks in the military. Sending them to high-level national competitions with the best students in the country makes the Screamin’ Eagles all very ambitious, self-motivated, and disciplined; they work hard and take pride in their work.
Publicly, the team’s success might be measured with trophies, but for teacher Derek, success is defined as advancing the kids’ skills, making them overcome their fears of public speaking, and consistently performing well.
Within the last few years, the success of the Screamin’ Eagles has taken them all over the United States. While traveling, Giselle loves the experiences in and outside of the competitions because “you get to learn about your personal strengths as a speaker as well as bond with your team during down time.” Jonathan enjoys making people laugh: “What I consider laughter to be is a moment of genuine happiness. You can be having the worst day but if you laugh, you’re happy, even if it’s only for a split second. So I think it’s really great to give that to people and be able to make them laugh because it just feels so good to be able to hear a whole crowd laughing because of you.” The team at Gabrielino is special to its members. From it, Giselle learned that “every ounce of progress will accumulate to something great.” They know that their acquired skills will be of great value for them in their future careers. Jonathan says that the speech class is “not easy. But if you keep pushing … trying to improve, you’ll get a lot out of this program. We are here because we chose to be.”