By Elizabeth Kolling

As freshmen, juniors Jack Greenberg and Liam Kolling walked into their very first debate practice, oblivious to the significance of their steps and unknowing of a predestined fate as students of public speaking and argumentative verbalism.

Fast-forward two years and these two individuals stand in the front of a classroom filled with eight middle school students, prepared to teach; the first day of Forensics Camp has begun.

“After going to the state championship last year,” said Kolling, “we realized that we had something.”

“We also recognized a need in the community, a void that needed to be filled. We wanted to share with the people around us what we have been so lucky to learn in the past two years: public speaking skills, and confidence when you present an idea you are passionate about.”

Believing that these tools are truly essential, Greenberg and Kolling formed the idea for a public speaking camp to offer opportunities for underprivileged youth within the community. This camp would teach young individuals the art of articulated communication.

Humanities teacher and Forensics Director Brandon Spars was extremely supportive of this idea, and told the then sophomores to get in contact with Head of School Janet Durgin.

“It felt very surreal until we talked to Janet about all the logistics that had to be hammered out,” Kolling explained. “We had to get in contact with schools and set up meetings with students. I think it didn’t become real to the administration until we handed them a list of the names of the kids who were going to attend and the curriculum. They seemed surprised and excited that we had made this happen and they quickly helped us secure a room and get funding to make it happen.”

Spars came in to work with the students on public speaking posture and gestures. “I thought it was fantastic that they were reaching out to younger students,” said Spars, “and I was impressed with what Liam and Jack and the younger students were able to accomplish. Jack and Liam are on a rock star trajectory.”

Said Kolling: “We’re starting everything much earlier and we’re reworking the curriculum based on feedback from the kids. We wanted to prepare for it during the CONNECTIONS period [SA’s weekly afternoon community outreach program] so that we could have time during kids’ school days to go off and do school presentations.

“We would’ve also made flyers and a website and gotten them approved by the Board of Education, but the response from [Director of CONNECTIONS] John Durgin was that ‘[our] project [didn’t] align with the spirit of CONNECTIONS,'” Kolling said. “Which I don’t think is necessarily true, because it is for underprivileged students, which is what Junior Connections is all about.”

However, Greenberg and Kolling are still preparing for next summer, even without the CONNECTIONS time.

“In August,” said Durgin, “they came and said they’d like to use CONNECTIONS for organizing the camp but that didn’t work out so we’ve set up an exploratory for them instead. They also talked about forming a non-profit organization. That’s a lot of work.”

“It’s very fortunate that they’re doing this as juniors,” said Durgin. “Because then they can think about who’s going to replace them.”

As he explained, the camp could be established as another summer program under the Sonoma Academy name, like summer jazz and sports camps. However, the two juniors have both simpler and grander plans.

“I want it to stay in the hands of the kids so that it’s the forensics program’s, not SA’s,” said
Greenberg.

At the same time, they want to expand the program. “I see the camp developing and growing to reach and excite more kids in Sonoma County,” explained Kolling. “It would be a great accomplishment to eventually move beyond just a camp, and morph into a nonprofit organization.”

Greenberg and Kolling took something that they are passionate about, overcame multiple barriers, and created something that aids the community’s kids who have been denied access to programs that emphasize the importance of verbal expression. Although there is mixed emotion about the future of the camp, those interviewed agree that it should always serve to empower and inspire underprivileged youth.