Jana Riggins, Speech and Debate Director
Jana Riggins, Speech and Debate Director

Student Congress to Begin this Fall

By Jana Riggins, Speech and Debate Director | Friday, September 06, 2013 1:31 PM

UIL is piloting an exciting new contest this fall, Congress, that models the legislative process of democracy; specifically, the United States Congress.

Within this mock legislative assembly competition, contestants draft legislation (proposed laws and position statements called resolutions) submitted to the tournament, and they research the docket of bills and resolutions dealing with real-world social and political policies prior to the contest to prepare their speeches. At the tournament, students deliver formal discourse on the merits and disadvantages of each piece of legislation, and vote to pass or defeat the measures they have examined. Parliamentary procedure forms structure for the discourse, and students extemporaneously respond to others’ arguments over the course of a session.

Judges evaluate contestants for their research and analysis of issues, argumentation, skill in asking and answering questions, use of parliamentary procedures and clarity and fluency of speaking.

Each congressional session is approximately three to four hours in length. A student presiding officer who is elected by the delegates runs the session by recognizing speakers, giving time signals, conducting votes and keeping order.

The attributes necessary to be competent congressional delegates are attributes necessary to survive in the "real world" of politics, political science and persuasion. In addition to practicing a variety of public speaking events, from oratory to extemporaneous to impromptu speaking, Congress calls on skills necessary for successful participation in discussions, debates and parliamentary situations.

Because student congress mimics real-life legislative assemblies, participants gain insight into the issues and problems that actually confront our lawmakers. Students must not only invent the argument and find the data to support it but must understand parliamentary rules and the application of those rules. They must be sensitive to the shifting weight of opinion within the group and be prepared to offset arguments that are given in opposition to their position so interpersonal communication skills are critical.

As you begin to recruit students for this new pilot contest, I invite you to review the skill sets unique to Congress over other UIL activities. Students in government, agriculture, social studies, speech and debate are prime candidates as well as students who aspire a career in politics or public service.

Many of you who are familiar with competitive Congress are wondering how the UIL contest will be structured. First, it has been adopted as a pilot contest, allowing us to experiment with different methods of implementation. So, in this inaugural year of the contest, we will be implementing a format we believe will be successful. However, there will be room for evolution and therefore, what we do in 2013-2014 may not be the final way we conduct the contest for the future.

Literary Criticism, Social Studies, Computer Science and Current Issues & Event are examples of earlier contests that were piloted before adopting in their current format.

To arrive at a contest structure, we examined several scheduling options: the traditional Academic Conflict Pattern of district, region and state; the CX window advancing from district to state hosting state Congress at the same time as CX Debate State Meet; hosting no traditional district but instead an area contest in April with State in May alongside the other academic events.

All of these options restricted certain populations from participating in Congress. In an effort to provide all students with this opportunity, we decided to think outside the box, sort of color outside the lines, if you will.

In this inaugural year, Congressional District competition will be organized within the structure of the 20 Educational Service Center regions in our state. All schools in your ESC will compete as a legislative assembly. This will ensure that there is sufficient participation to make an assembly. Schools may enter three congressional members with two alternates. However, each conference will advance three students from their ESC congressional district. That means small schools will be competing with large schools but not against them.

In September and October school can participate in invitational meet opportunities. Nov. 1–16 is the sanctioned district window and schools within each ESC region can select the specific day within the window that is best for the majority of schools in that region. This allows flexibility and avoids conflict with area tournaments that traditionally host a weekend tourney in November. State Meet will be hosted in Austin on January 7-8, 2014.

The State Office appoints the clerk for each of the 20 ESC sites. Participating schools then select four additional coaches experienced in this contest to make up their congressional district committee that will organize and administer district.

This is a student-focused contest, as contestants have the opportunity to run for presiding officer and, starting next year, to write legislation. Only in the inaugural year will the League provide pre-prepared bills and resolutions, due to the fall/winter scheduling. A 10-member state advisory committee has reviewed and ranked the legislation individually but the compiled rankings remain confidential, known only to UIL staff.

In an effort to conserve resources, all rules and contest materials will not be shipped hard copy in the traditional manner, but will be posted online available for downloading. Legislation for invitational meets will be posted the day after Labor Day to encourage schools to host practice Congressional meets this fall. However, tournament hosts are not restricted to using UIL legislation for invitational meets. They may incorporate original bills and resolutions or legislation from other forensic circuits. It will be important for hosts to publicize what legislation they plan to use and coaches should confirm so students prepare on the appropriate legislation.

For UIL qualifying meets, legislation provided by the League must be used exclusively. In September, the State Office will post the District legislation online. We are creating a page in the speech/debate web area exclusively for Congress and will also email coaches notification of the posting. Be certain you have submitted your updated Speech Coach Information Form online so you receive our messages. Legislation for State will be posted online Nov. 18 in preparation for the January meet.

How does your school get involved in UIL Congress? Go to the UIL website speech home page and submit an “Intent to Participate” form. This is essential so you will be included in the organization of congressional districts.

How do your students prepare for UIL Congress? Go to the UIL website speech home page and download documents we have provided. These include Congress terminology, format for writing legislation, speaking organization, procedure for debate, parliamentary procedure table of motions, and a critical discussions on ethics within the contest. Use the testimonials to recruit bright students for this challenging event.  Attend one of the four regional Student Activity Conferences this fall (University of Texas at Arlington, Texas Tech University, University of Texas and Sam Houston State University) for workshops designed for students as well as coaches conducted by members of the state advisory committee.  The conferences are free.

The National Federation of High School Associations produces a booklet on Student Congress that is helpful. Contact the Performing Arts Director Kent Summers @ ksummers@nfhs.org on how to obtain this publication. NFHS website is www.nfhs.org. The UIL will continue to post additional resources for the contest on our website as they become available.

I hope you will engage your students in this great contest. If you have questions about the new pilot, email me at jriggins@uiltexas.org.

UNIVERSITY INTERSCHOLASTIC LEAGUE
1701 Manor Road, Austin, TX 78722
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