They speak of Compassion. They speak of Discovery. They affirm the merits of Patriotism, Persistence and Passion. The annual Eighth Grade Declamations is as a Middle School milestone and often the launch of future public speakers. Guided by English teachers and the Center for Leadership’s public speaking expertise, students learn the challenges and power of a well-planned, practiced and executed presentation. Something many don't experience until adulthood.

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."

Why Declamations?

Head of Middle School Amber Berry ascribes the program’s success to the thoughtful planning and direction of 8th grade English teachers Frank Henson and Jim Carroll. In the Q&A below, Jim and Frank share why Declamations is such a revered milestone in a St. Luke's middle schooler's journey:

List of 7 items.

  • Why is this program a focus in 8th grade?

    FRANK: 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 an 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.
  • What is most rewarding about Declamations?

    FRANK: Those last ingredients, compassion and encouragement, make the Declamations my favorite program to teach. I'll add to that passion—the 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.
  • Why spend 8 weeks on public speaking?

    JIM: As this anxiety we all feel about public speaking mounts, we teachers take great care in helping students begin to feel the transformation that is occurring through a stepped process, with tons of practice time. We tender this care with encouragement and recognition. For me, it is an opportunity 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.
  • What specific techniques do students master?

    JIM: 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. Letting yourself command an others’ chain of thought. I would hazard to say that every single 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.
  • What tools do students use?

    FRANK: We use technology for practice and peer-to-peer feedback. Students recorded video and/or audio of their practice sessions, and team members would leave audio comments. We also had upper school students act as mentors and leave audio comments on practice sessions as well.
  • Was there a Declamations highlight for you?

    JIM: One student,  Maria Minuesa,  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 Maria to “find her voice” in a way that 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.

    FRANK: Declamations has a positive effect on all involved -- we teachers, parents, and most of all, the students. I love every aspect and being part of something so profound.
  • Beyond public speaking skills, what do students gain from Declamations?

    AMBER: 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 was, 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 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.