Dallas ISD debate students shine in essay competition centered on the COVID-19 pandemic


While local and national politicians are responding to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, Dallas ISD secondary debate students applied their researching and writing skills to propose solutions to the crisis in an essay competition sponsored by the Dallas Urban Debate Alliance (DUDA).

Student Activities partnered with DUDA to give secondary students in the District debate program the option to participate in two essay contests instead of the live debate tournaments that were canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, said Sharla Hudspeth, director for Dallas ISD Student Activities.

“Selecting the COVID-19 essay topic was important because it allowed students to utilize their debating and critical thinking skills to create written arguments about the pandemic that is relevant and is impacting their teenage lives now,” she added.

More than 100 students from about 30 secondary schools submitted 71 essays in the competition. The essays for the high school division could not exceed 2,000 words; and for middle schoolers, the word count could not exceed 1,000.

DUDA Executive Derek Liles said the essay competition gave students the opportunity to spend time outside of their at-home school schedule to research academic literature, articles and policy briefs and convert their findings into persuasive essays.

“The essay contest showcases the outstanding educational opportunities afforded to Dallas ISD students,” he said. “Through this contest, these Dallas ISD debaters continue to function as community leaders, bringing the insights and knowledge of urban youth to the forefront of American political discourse.”

All coach-nominated essays were graded by two judges. The top essays advanced to a final round of judging for placement ranking. One of the essay rules was that students could prepare an essay in teams of no more than three debaters.

The first essay competition topic asked debate students to take a stance on the United States response to COVID-19: Should the federal government offer universal healthcare or universal basic income while the pandemic is active?

A list of the top essays is in the chart below, followed by essay excerpts from School of Science and Engineering, Roosevelt High and Rusk Middle School: first place division winners.

Top Essays from Magnet High Schools

Rank School Student(s)
1st Place Science & Engineering Olivia Northcutt-Wyly
2nd Place Talented & Gifted Francesca Gilbard

Joe Suek

Tvisha Garg

3rd Place Law Magnet Amanda Arroyo

Sophia Sliter-Hays


Top Essays from Comprehensive High Schools

Rank School Student(s)
1st Place Roosevelt  Evelyn Borrego
2nd Place Hillcrest Amelie Sahadevan

Elle Nies

3rd Place Jefferson Imzadi Diaz


Top Essays from Middle Schools

Rank School Student(s)
1st Place Rusk Ha Le

Emmanuel Cooper

2nd Place Franklin Morgan Dillon
3rd Place DESA Cindy Briseno

Mason Klein


Olivia Northcutt-Wyly, School of Science and Engineering

Affirming the Resolution with a Solution: Negative Income Tax:

“In the wake of coronavirus, thousands of people found themselves unemployed or furloughed, a condition that necessitated intervention from the federal government in the form of stimulus checks. This plight is not a new one for many Americans who live below the poverty line. For many, a stimulus check is a band-aid over an ever-growing bullet hole that hasn’t yet been triaged. On the bright side, however, the stimulus packages did highlight the important fact that the government has the necessary resources for expansive welfare programs…”

“…Covid-19 brought along many unfortunate consequences; however, it did highlight a possibility for reforming current welfare programs. Implementing a negative income tax, much like a stimulus check, provides cash to households that are in need. Removal of any UBI or stimulus check programs with the conclusion of coronavirus ignores the fact that many households are never able to make ends meet, pandemic or not.”

Evelyn A. Borrego, Roosevelt High School

In favor of the resolution:

“Universal Basic Income and Universal health care essential to surpass the COVID-19 pandemic; having stable access to shelter and care is essential for survival and prosperity. The United States government’s purpose to ensure life, liberty, and happiness as stated in the Declaration of Independence. This can be accomplished by ensuring that every resident of our country can access health care and the basic needs of survival…”

“…The United States is a country of people from all walks of life, races, religions, creeds, and statuses; therefore, we should come to a clear consensus that we should practice loving our differences and each other. As Americans, we must fight to uphold our ideals of life, liberty, and happiness, through caring for the wellbeing of every single man, woman, and child during this global, unprecedented pandemic.”

Ha Le and Emmanuel Cooper, Rusk Middle School

Affirmative Side for the COVID-19 Response:

“…In conclusion, the United States should provide universal basic income and universal healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. First, universal basic income will help U.S citizens by giving a source of income to the millions of Americans that are currently unemployed. Secondly, universal health care would benefit the citizens because they would not have to worry about the cost of the treatment and help the U.S. in early detection of the virus. Third, countries like Canada that have universal healthcare have been able to slow the spread of the virus. Not only will these benefit the people, but it will also help in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Therefore, the U.S. federal government should provide universal basic income and universal healthcare.”


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