By Elicia Kennedy
A multicultural group of students is surpassing expectations after making the semi-finals of Western Australia’s schools debating competition.
A number of the students joined the team to improve their English skills, never expecting such success.
One of them, Asmaa Hameed, understood only a few words of English when her family moved from Iraq to Perth.
Two years later, she has transformed her basic vocabulary into a set of language skills that has her winning debates.
Asmaa, 13, said she joined the Greenwood College debating team to improve her English.
“I guess [languages] come easy because I want to learn,” she said.
“Every lesson I am just trying my best to improve. I guess that has helped me to achieve where I am right now.”
Asmaa is one of five members of Greenwood College’s Year 8 team, and one of three to come from a home where English is not the first language.
Team-mate Cyrine Almodovar, who comes from the Philippines, is their lead speaker.
“I am good at wording and I am a very emotive person when it comes to debating,” she said.
Cyrine said she believed the team’s diversity has been its greatest strength when it comes to competing against some of Perth’s most elite schools.
“There is a lot that we bring to the table in term of how we view the world and different views,” Cyrine said.
“They have more resources, they are richer, they look fancier. We look very humble … but that doesn’t mean we can’t be great.”
None of the five students can remember who first suggested the team’s motto “nervous but empowered”, but it has stuck.
“Every debate we are a bundle of nerves,” Jacque Walters said.
“It’s logic really. We are all amazing speakers and we are going to get up there and do as best as we can and the nerves don’t matter.”
Winning in ‘tracky pants and polo shirts’
Up to 40 per cent of the students attending Greenwood College have a language background other than English.
Ela Amor-Robertson, the teacher in charge of the college’s English as a second language or dialect program, said she was “gobsmacked” by the team’s success.
Teacher Ela Amor-Robertson co-ordinates the debating team at Greenwood College. (ABC News: Elicia Kennedy)
“We thought this is going to be a great way to build confidence in this group of students,” Ms Amor-Robertson said.
“Their development and understanding of world issues and of language has been phenomenal.”
But there is no denying the team stands out at the competition.
“They stand out because they are one of the few public schools that has been really successful in this competition, especially being a non-academic select school,” Ms Amor-Robertson said.
“They are getting up there debating wearing tracky pants and polo shirts, rather than the suits and ties of the more elite private schools.”