Congratulations to our eighth graders for their participation in St. Luke's 19th Annual Declamations, which were held in person and on campus on Tuesday, May 17, and Wednesday, May 18, 2022.
The annual Eighth Grade Declamations is an important Middle School milestone, one that serves students well in their future academic and even professional endeavors. Guided by Middle School English Dept. Chair Kirsten Tobler, Eighth Grade English Teacher Ty Wieland, and the Center for Leadership, students learn the challenges and power of a well-planned, practiced, and executed presentation. The type of training and guidance that students receive in the run-up to their respective Declamation is an experience most people won't have until much later in their lives, if at all.
Amber Berry, Head of Middle School
The Declamations program truly unites and builds a community of learners. Students support each other and encourage peers to reach their full potential. It's rewarding to see young students grow, mature, gain confidence and develop character traits that will serve them far beyond our classroom walls."
As a school, we are keenly aware of the importance of public speaking and communication in planning for students’ future in the global community, and as 8th-grade teachers, we are sensitive to the growing self-understanding and awareness that 13 and 14-year-olds undergo daily. We know how self-conscious a young orator might be in speaking to their peers and their families. So we infuse the program with speaking techniques that build confidence and a rigorous content development process that teaches the foundation to a successful speech -- using one’s voice to blend language and rhetoric with insight to create interest and intrigue in one’s audience. Add an equally large dose of compassion and encouragement, and there you have the Declamations.
Compassion, encouragement, passion. Students dig deep to find a topic of personal meaning to them and work hard to conceive, write, and present ideas that express what impressed or impacted them most in their research. The Declamations present a chrysalis moment, one in which you can see a young student become something larger, more radiant, and persuasive than they have ever been in your presence before, right before your eyes. Parents see it. Teachers and faculty see it. Students feel it.
For most people, public speaking is wrought with anxiety. St. Luke's teachers take great care in helping students begin to feel the transformation that is occurring through a stepped process, with tons of practice time, encouragement, and recognition. It is an opportunity for teachers to voice to a student those qualities about the presentation of his or her self that is unique to them, those parts of their character that shine through in that chrysalis moment.
The Declamations teach you to “bowl” with your eyes (eye contact), how to trick your body into avoiding tics (body language), and how to breathe in order to be louder, but the program is also about learning who you are and then sharing yourself with an audience. Letting people look at you and commanding their chain of thought. Every student comes away with a sense of accomplishment, an understanding of speaking techniques, and a new idea about their capabilities. If you know 13 and 14-year-olds, then you know this is the perfect time for such revelations.
We use technology for practice and peer-to-peer feedback. Students record video and/or audio of their practice sessions, and team members leave audio comments. We also have Upper school students act as mentors and leave audio comments on practice sessions as well.
One student arrived at the beginning of the school year from Spain, delivering her speech in Spanish. This international flavor was a thrill for the students and, most importantly, a means for the presenter to “find her voice” in a way that was most natural and comfortable for her. The confidence that she exuded and the nobility of her subject, Antoinette Tuff, contributed substantially to the depth of the Declamations.
In general, Declamations has a positive effect on all involved - teachers, parents, and most of all, the students.
One of the highlights of the program goes beyond the academic exercise. It's a shared experience that truly unites and builds a community of learners who support each other through the process. These students should be extremely proud. As impressive as each individual speech is, we applaud the class as a whole for working together and for encouraging each other to reach a potential that might only have been realized through the support of peers. It's extremely rewarding as an educator to see these young students grow, mature, gain confidence and develop character traits that will serve them far beyond our classroom walls.
St. Luke’s School is a secular (non-religious), private school in New Canaan, CT for grades 5 through 12 serving 25 towns in Connecticut and New York. Our exceptional academics and diverse co-educational community foster students’ intellectual and ethical development and prepare them for top colleges. St. Luke’s Center for Leadership builds the commitment to serve and the confidence to lead.