Insightful research and a compelling presentation saw Rio Claro West Secondary emerge as champions of the debate component of the bpTT Schools' Environmental Awareness Competition held at the Mayaro Resource Centre on Friday, 17 June.
According to the ecstatic winning team captain, Azaria Rodriguez, “This is my second time participating in this competition and it just keeps getting better. Although it is more challenging, we really appreciated the return to the face-to-face debates. This demanded that we be more assertive and self-assured while at the same time, requiring skills like research and public speaking. Our team really grew as a unit and this victory means the world to us. We are also being challenged to become environmental ambassadors and we take this responsibility very seriously.”
In existence for the past 17 years, the competition is endorsed by the Ministry of Education and incorporates the North East and South East Education Districts. Administered by Mayaro-based non-governmental organisation, The Black Deer Foundation, the environmental-focused contest is sponsored by energy company bp Trinidad and Tobago (bpTT).
Going against tradition, the debate does not follow the usual format of argument and rebuttal between two teams. Instead, it gives students the space to present their arguments utilising oral and technology-based mechanisms including computer-based and visual tools.
According to founder and president of The Black Deer Foundation, Arvolon Wilson Smith, “The format of this debating competition was crafted to give schools the confidence to present their thoughts and ideas without inhibition. It’s great to see students start off introverted and by the end, they are fervently arguing their points. Not only are we transforming attitudes to the environment, but we are also transforming young minds that will shape the future.”
This year, the teams debated the topic of: ‘Be it resolved that with all the government agreements (COP 26, Paris Agreement etc.) as it relates to climate change, would you say we are closer or further away from achieving these goals utilising available technology?’
In arguing that we are further away, the Rio Claro West debate team accumulated high marks in criteria such as diction, presentation, clarity and relevance to defeat their nearest opponent, North Eastern College by 26 points. Rounding up the top four were the competitive Mayaro Secondary School and Coryal Secondary School, in third and fourth place respectively.
Since its inception, the competition has proven to be an effective way to give students a voice in the conversation on the environment. It also falls in line with the ideals of bp’s Sustainability Frame, which outlines the pursuit of sustainability through getting to net zero, improving people’s lives and care for the planet.
Matthew Pierre, community liaison coordinator, bpTT, lauded the debate competition: “Every aspect of this competition gives focus to ecological concerns, which melds with our focus on the environment. The debate asks students to demonstrate academic skills such as research, writing, presentation and communication, while encouraging them to exercise their creativity and self-expression in a challenging yet uplifting environment.”
Having been hosted online only last year, the competition is now using a hybrid of online and in-person interaction with aims to expand into a national reach going forward. In addition to the debating component for secondary schools, students between the ages of seven and 18 participate in the essay writing and the art/cartoon categories of the environmental competition.
Rio Claro West Secondary principal, Preston Kissoon, was full of praise for the bpTT Schools' Environmental Awareness Competition: “The debate challenges students to be brave and on-point with their arguments. With the younger students, you see a transformation in terms of thinking and attitudes, and this is also expressed through the essays and art. This is a stage for students to advance themselves as well as the fight to preserve the environment. I congratulate bpTT and Black Deer for their foresight and I would encourage all schools to participate.”