A Glimpse Into the FCDI

AmandaLesly Miranda | 8/30/23

Speech and debate is a team sport that helps you excel in your public speaking skills. Whether you stick to your interpretation events or battle it out in a Lincoln-Douglas round, the one thing we can all agree on, as speech and debaters, is the community that is built around you because of it. And, the lives that are changed around you never come into focus until you have it presented to you.

As a resident of the state of Florida (which I know many of you have differing opinions on), we are blessed to have the Florida Civics and Debate Initiative, or the FCDI. It’s for Florida schools only, and it gives every single Floridian student, elementary, middle, or high school, the chance to thrive in a speech and debate spotlight. They give you the funding, the opportunities, and they will help build up any speech and debate program at any school, even repaying coaches for their services by giving them stipend checks at the end of each debate year. These gracious acts do not come often enough, and because of FCDI, I was able to help found my debate team.

In January of 2020, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced the Florida Civics and Debate Initiative (FCDI) with The Marcus Foundation to elevate civic knowledge, civic skills and civics disposition for middle and high school students. The Marcus Foundation committed $5 million over three years to the Florida Education Foundation to increase Florida student’s access to speech and debate programs. Before the initiative was created, there were 11 school districts in Florida that participated in competitive debate, with most competing online or out-of-state. In FCDI’s first year, Florida added 59 active teams in 30 different school districts across the state. In its second year, the program has grown by over 100 teams in 48 school districts for the 2021-2022 school year.

In just two brief years, the FCDI has developed 161 new speech and debate teams in 48 school districts; held 25 debate tournaments with over 3,000 student competitors; provided over 600 hours of professional development to new debate coaches; and facilitated professional development to 300 civics and social studies teachers. In 2019-2020, 11,678 students in Florida competed in speech and debate. That number increased to 14,357 after year one of the initiative. In year one, the FCDI developed 59 new debate teams, with an additional 102 added in year two. The number of Florida school districts with competitive speech and debate teams has grown from 11 to 48, with the vision of all 74 districts fielding teams by 2023.

Initially, the FCDI initiative started with CFDI, or the Central Florida Debate Initiative. The Central Florida Debate Initiative first implemented programs in Central Florida high schools in the 2013-2014 school year. Since then, the organization has evolved into the Florida Debate Initiative in order to serve as an advocate for the development and support for speech and debate programs throughout the state. The initiative then expanded into FCDI, where they now work hand-in-hand to educate students across the entire state of Florida about civics, speech, and debate programs nationwide.

But, they also host the National Civics and Debate Championship each year on Veterans’ Day weekend in Orlando, Florida, to any student wanting to show their strength. The National Civics and Debate Championship is a rigorous contest that thoroughly challenges students' knowledge, debate skills and endurance. While most conventional debate tournaments require students to compete in only one event, this event, the first and only of its kind, requires students to compete in different debate events on each of three tournament days. They offer Congressional Debate, Impromptu Speaking, and Extemporaneous Debate over the three days of competition, offering a unique competitive experience where students must compete in all three events to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the diversity of the speech and debate community. And, to ensure any student can attend, they offer scholarships for students nationwide to pay for air travel, hotel rooms, and registration fees to help them come and compete.

And for the champions of NCDC, as well as some members of the FCDI schools, you get the opportunity of attending the FCDI Day at the Florida State Capitol. Unfortunately, I have not had the honor to attend (I was one spot away from getting there and yes, it still hurts), but I can say, from the stories I have heard, it is incredible. In January 2022, 34 students from 17 schools, along with their parents and coaches, attended the first-ever FCDI Day at the Capitol. To kick off the day, the students were welcomed into the House Chamber by Chair Chris Latvala where they participated in a mock session. This provided the students with the opportunity to learn about how the State Legislators introduce bills, debate and vote on the floor by participating in an imitated version of House and Senate sessions. After their mock session, the students and parents had the opportunity to meet briefly with their biggest champion, Governor Ron DeSantis. 

They met with several Representatives and Senators from their districts to advocate for the Florida Civics and Debate Initiative and to inform them about the importance of Speech and Debate programs. They discussed with Senators, Representatives, and their staff how Speech and Debate has impacted their lives and how it has helped them find confidence in what their future will look like. After the productive conversations that they had with State Legislators, the students toured the Florida Supreme Court and participated in a Q &A Justice John Couriel through zoom, where they learned all about what a Justice does. The students took a tour of the Historic Capitol and learned about the original capitol building and the history behind the Historic Capitol and the current Capitol. They learned about monumental moments that happened in Florida from the Bush V. Gore Presidential election to how the Civil Rights Movement impacted the state. And, to finish up the amazing day, they attended a real session of the Florida Senate and were recognized on the floor by Senator Manny Diaz.

Things like this, these experiences, are what make the debate community full of the people that we know. They help us understand how much we can change the world. The students felt like they were able to make an impact with the legislators by expressing the importance of speech and debate. This experience was an important time for them, the Florida Civics and Debate Initiative and the State Legislators. They learned more about the importance of civics and the process state legislators go through to create laws that are made in the state. And, because of its immense success, it will now return each year with the FCDI students to help educate them on how to make change and how these moments will impact their futures.

My team has been competing in FCDI events for two years now, and the community that they have built is incredible. From the lifelong allies that I have made throughout these past few months, to all of the awe-inspiring stories I have heard from the interpretation events, to the ridiculously talented Congress individuals, and to the debaters of all kinds, coach, alumni, or student, they have all seemingly changed my lives. They have made me have a different perspective on the world around me, and they have inspired me to make more of a difference.

But, that’s not the only thing that they have done for me; they have given me the chance to help others that may not know about the debate community by helping me become a Public Relations Intern for the Florida Debate Initiative, headed by Mr. Abraham Lopez. After all of the buzz around the debate team for my school, and with the fact I am a rising senior (#ClassOf2024), not to mention my extreme passion and enthusiasm for literally everything, sprinkled with a dash of my incredible humor, they decided to offer me this internship.

With this job, I am able to create posts and more about FDI, FCDI, and their programs, using student testimonies to explain how beneficial speech and debate is for the future, and I am able to help encourage them to learn more about the speech and debate community. Regardless if your school has a program for it, or if speech and debate isn’t your forte, it’s my job to help make sure everyone is involved and gets to see what this community is all about. With this internship and the opportunities it brought me, I have met people from far and wide, from Alaska to North Dakota (honestly never thought anyone lived there); from Taiwan to India at the National tournament for NSDA, I have made friends from all over the world that have shared their stories.

And that’s what this community is all about: sharing your story with the people around you. This community is all about showing others that you can do what you’d like, no matter who you are or where you come from. The speech and debate community is empowering, and once a debater, always a debater. Your memories will be lifelong and everlasting, and thanks to this internship, I know my memories will always be here to guide me. And who knows; maybe you’ll head the next debate initiative in your state, but you’ll never know until you try. For me, it’s off to bigger problems, such as helping with the National Civics and Debate Championships, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.