Teacher proposes forensics team at Boyle County High School

November 07, 2003|GARY MOYERS

A nontraditional teacher is spearheading an effort to bring a very traditional competitive program to Boyle County High School.

Tom Ellis, in his second year as a teacher after spending 26 years in the corporate world, is in the process of organizing a forensics team at the school with the goal of competing for the first time Nov. 15 at Henry Clay High School in Lexington.

"We're basically throwing the kids right into the deep end of the pool and letting them swim," said Ellis. "Our goal is to be very competitive by spring, and in order to do that, we're going right into the competitive end of it."

Forensics is the art of speech and debate and has become a highly competitive scholastic program. To develop Boyle's team, Ellis is getting help from his resource teacher, arts and humanities department head Jennifer Brogle, and a potential rival, Steve Meadows, Danville High School's forensics coach.


"Steve is a highly talented and competitive person, yet he's willing to share his knowledge with us," said Ellis. "He graciously agreed to bring some of his students to a pizza workshop at the auditorium at Danville High School for our kids to help us get our program off the ground. In my experience, there are very few who would sacrifice their time to help another team establish a firm foundation, whether in an academic or athletic discipline. This is a credit to both Steve and Danville High School."

The Boyle program got off the ground when Ellis was hired last year as part of a new state-sponsored program to bring teachers with life experiences into the classroom. The state offers an accelerated teacher accreditation program to professionals with degrees. Ellis was chosen for the program after a career with Blue Cross Inc. and began his certification process last fall.

Ellis said he talked with Boyle Superintendent Pam Rogers a year ago about establishing a forensics team at BCHS.

"She has a commitment to arts and humanities programs," he said. "I made a promise to myself and to Dr. Rogers that if I actually became a teacher, I'd become involved in extracurricular activities, because I believe in them so much to enhance the student experience. Dr. Rogers has really worked to push this forward, and we're developing a real enthusiasm among the students for this program."

"For the past four years, we've had students interested in a forensics program, but with Tom's hiring and his forensics background, the interest has really grown," said Brogle.

Ellis, who describes himself as "very competitive," was introduced to forensics while a sophomore at a Louisville high school.

"I had a very progressive teacher who grabbed me in the hall one day and told me she was entering me in a forensics competition the following Saturday," he said. "That got me started - I was hooked. That turned out to be a significant event as far as my corporate career was concerned as well, because speaking constituted a large part of my job."

He also attended a forensics workshop six weeks ago that gave him a starting point for this year, and after auditions at the school, he found 17 students who wanted to participate.

"I want to keep all the kids involved," he said. "We're starting out operating on the raw talent of the kids, but we're going to learn by doing. The competitive bar is set pretty high in this school system, and we intend to reach a proficient level in a very short time."

Ellis said the learning curve extends to the coach as well.

"Forensics has developed to a high degree of sophistication and refinement since I competed all those years ago," he said. "It is such a competitive program now, but the skills developed by the students prove so valuable in college and career life."

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