As the 2018-2019 school year comes to a close, Debate It Forward’s (DIF) Co-Founders Josh Aaronson and Leah Shapiro took some time to reflect on the evolution of DIF and its accomplishments this year, and to look ahead to the 2019-2020 school year. Aaronson and Shapiro outlined key highlights of the year, including strategic advancements, program growth, and an increasingly effective internal team.
“Strategically, we identified our vision to expand classes by 50%, and have been working hard, both internally and externally, to ensure we achieve it,” Aaronson said. “We’ve expanded from 20 classes to 30 over the past school year, we’ve hit our target and we plan on expanding further. Contributing to our progress, we hired three new campus managers this year, with a fourth slated for this upcoming school year,” added Aaronson.
DIF’s new-hires are:
Symone Bridges, an Educator, Creative, World-Traveler & Visionary. With her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management, along with expertise ranging from leadership development and community outreach to and youth engagement, she hopes to add value to DIF by cultivating the next generation of thought leaders and voices through the art of debate.
Hairat (Dammy) Ojulari, a UIC alum, who graduated in 2015 with a Psychology major and an African-American Studies minor. After her two-year commitment with Teach for America Baltimore, she noticed a lack of education equity for low-income children and wanted to be a part of making the education system better. Through DIF, she hopes to bridge the gap throughout Chicago public schools.
Luke Garfield, a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University in 2016, with degrees in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and Writing. Luke also spent two years in Comoros, Africa teaching middle school kids conversational English while serving in the Peace Corps. He looks forward to working with DIF to elevate ethical discourse among children in Chicago.
“This school year saw tremendous growth in our students as well. In fact, we hosted our first event where one of our board members debated our students and it was a huge success!” said Shapiro. She went on to note that 60 spectators were in attendance to watch DIF’s students debate Geoffrey Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. Shapiro said that Stone is a noted First Amendment scholar and the author of many books on constitutional law, so it was a real treat for him to agree to debate our students. What made the experience even better is that our students actually won! “To have our students go toe to toe with someone as accomplished as Stone and hold their own is a true testament to what we’re doing here,” said Shapiro. Shapiro added that DIF also saw an increase in the enrollment of students of lower income, as well as students with learning differences and IEPs. The DIF team’s goal is to expand its reach and ultimately make its programs available to those without access to similar extracurricular programs.
DIF also saw tremendous socioeconomic this year growth as well. Aaronson mentioned that DIF is proud to have won the Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC), organized by the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation in partnership with the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago. The SNVC is a program that jump-starts businesses and nonprofits. Businesses must present a model with a social mission at the core, along with a plausible plan for financial sustainability—either through earned income, philanthropy, government aid or some combination thereof, and DIF is thrilled to be the first non-profit organization to hold this prestigious honor.
“We’re also are the proud recipient of a sizable grant from The Women’s Board at the University of Chicago.” said Aaronson. “We’d like to thank The Woman’s Board for their tremendous generosity and their recognition that we truly have something special here at DIF.”
Outlook for 2019-2020
Aaronson and Shapiro are bullish about DIF’s prospects for growth in the year ahead. “We had a record year of growth and we’re looking to expand upon it,” they said. DIF’s new hires will play an integral role in growth and expansion by reaching out to communities where DIF’s programs are needed. “Moving forward, we’re looking to expand north into Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as Evanston, Illinois,” added Aaronson. Shapiro remarked that the team at DIF understands that this past school year was incredible with the curriculum in place, but realizes that it’s time to scale. So the DIF team will begin to revamp its curriculum by optimizing what’s proven to be effective for greater results. To do so, the team will look to hire staff from Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and DePaul University.
“We know that the following school year will be just as amazing as the last – we have a great group of students and parents, a staff determined to succeed and contributors that truly understand our mission,” said Aaronson and Shapiro. The DIF team would like to thank everyone that has been involved with our continued success, and we encourage our supporters to remain involved, but would also like to invite newcomers to chat and see what we’re all about. Contact us to learn more about the DIF movement.