Forensics is Still On

Dempsey D, Columnist

Forensics is a very popular winter extracurricular activity at St. Robert School and typically half of the middle school students participate. Middle school teacher, Ms DeLapp, leads the team every year, and under her dedication and leadership, the school has developed a very good track record. 

The forensic season begins in January when students pick their competition category and select their individual pieces. Ms. DeLapp conducts weekly one-on-one practice sessions with each student. About eight forensics tournaments are held between February and March, including a final State tournament for students who qualify. In normal years, schools take turns hosting the forensics meets on Friday evenings and weekends. Hundreds of students are bussed to the meets to participate. These are very social events as students get to meet and mingle with kids from other schools as well as their classmates in between their competition sessions. Schools play music,host dance parties, and sell food and beverages at concession stands. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools must limit the number of people in their buildings, making the standard forensic meet format impossible. Ms. DeLapp and the other members of the Middle Level Forensics Association (MLFA) executive board were faced with a difficult decision: to either cancel the entire season or find a way to make the meets virtual. They decided to get creative and find a solution. Ms. DeLapp has been in weekly planning sessions since last summer, helping to define new protocols for the meets and working with a programmer who has designed software for forensics leagues to create the platform that would work best for the MLFA.

Ms. DeLapp worried that she would have fewer participants on the team this year without the socialization aspect of the meets. However, almost fifty students signed up, which is about half the middle school. Ms. DeLapp conducts the thirty minute weekly practice sessions in person, and students wear a translucent mask, so she can see their mouths and facial expressions. During the meets, students will gather at St. Robert School to compete virtually. They will perform alone in a classroom with their mask off and in front of a camera. The judge will watch and score them from a computer screen in a separate location. After each student competes, they will get to join their cohort in their homeroom (with their masks on, of course) between rounds.

Performing in front of a camera will be different than doing so in front of a live audience. Ms. DeLapp explains that students will have to learn how to direct their voice and gaze towards a camera, think about proper lighting and angles, and reconsider the size of their movements to accommodate the computer screen. Eighth grader Katherine Purvis stated that she would rather be in person, but she is just glad that forensics is happening. This will be her third and final year on the forensics team at St. Robert School. She enjoyed doing forensics last year when she was able to socialize and meet new people. Those aspects will be different, but she is still excited to compete and hopes to have an enjoyable season.

Forensics has changed in many ways for experienced seventh and eighth graders, but for the sixth graders who don’t know what to expect, everything is brand new. Sixth grader Daniela chose to join the team and virtually compete in the category of storytelling. She is happy that people found a way to put on forensics even though she will get to do less socializing. Sixth grader Elliot decided to join the team this year in the persuasive speaking category. He has been nervous about public speaking in the past but his older sister convinced him to try forensics. In some ways, he said it might be easier to perform in front of a camera to start, rather than in front of live people. 

Many events and activities were canceled in 2020 and now in 2021, but lots of kids are happy forensics is still happening. About half of the middle school students are participating in forensics, and thanks to lots of hard work students at many schools are going to be able to enjoy a different activity. It may not be the same as usual, but it will still be exciting and fun for many people.

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