Darcy Feist, a fifth grade student in Joan Henning’s class at Holy Family Catholic School in Great Bend, can do something that makes many adults break into a sweat and avoid at all costs. Public speaking. And, she can do it well.
On Saturday, April 7, she won first place at the Dodge City Diocesan Civic Oration Contest in Garden City. But to get there, she had to place tops in two other competitions.
Each year, the diocese holds a competition for students grades five through eight. They are asked to research and write a 3-5 minute speech on a given topic, and present it from memory. This year, the topic was “Inventions that have improved the quality of life.” The invention Darcy chose to speak about was YouTube.
She started her speech by describing how she turned to YouTube to learn how to finish a potholder she’d made on a loom she received for Christmas. From there, she touted the free educational benefits of being able to learn hobbies when and where the student wants to. She also spoke of how teachers use YouTube in the classroom, and how people around the world without access to traditional education can use YouTube to learn what they need to better their lives.
Holy Family Principal Karen Moeder wasn’t surprised she performed well.
“Darcy is an energetic and outgoing person, and she’s also very focused and goal oriented,” she said.
Moeder realizes the project is a lot of work, and in the beginning, teachers, parents and students tend to grumble about the assignment. It takes up class time, it puts additional expectations on parents to help, and students find working on it in addition to their other homework challenging. But, every student, regardless of whether they are boys or girls, introverted or extroverted, high achieving or struggling, accomplish the task in the end.
“This exercise gives the kids a chance to see that there are opportunities for success in other areas besides athletics, which at that age is a new realization for many of them,” she said. “For some, it points them towards debate and forensics.”
Preparation begins in December, with a research paper assignment based on the theme. Every student is required to participate. From that research, they then write a three to five minute speech which they then memorize before presenting it to the class.
Then, the top three fifth graders and top four sixth graders compete in a school contest. This year, in addition to Darcy, those students were Brandon Suppes, Ava Gregg, Samantha Mayers, Kara Feist, Lakyn Carrol and Ashton McMillen.
Darcy took first place at the April 3 competition, gaining entry to the diocese competition later that week in Garden City. There she faced stiff competition from the best speakers from six other schools in the diocese. Some of those schools include seventh and eighth grades, making her win even more impressive, Moeder said.
Joan Henning, Darcy’s teacher, knew she would do well on the assignment.
“She delivered her speech beautifully in the classroom,” she said. “She was very expressive, and her delivery was natural.”
Still, she was a little surprised when Darcy won first place in Garden City, she said, because of the experience of the other students. While this was her first time, others had likely competed at that level before, possibly more than once.
Practice was key, Carrie Feist, Darcy’s mom said.
“She would do it once or twice a day once she got it memorized,” she said.
Being in front of a crowd isn’t a new experience for Darcy. Piano and singing recitals have perhaps provided some of her confidence. That, and her performance as Pirate #5 in a Great Bend Rec production, Carrie said.
Almost didn’t happen
The opportunity to take her speech as far as Darcy might not have happened without the Kasey Sabatka, the father of five from Bird City. He is a managing partner with Modern Woodmen of America there. MWA is a fraternal financial organization which promotes educational programs as a cornerstone community outreach.
The civic oration contest is one of these programs offered throughout the nation, and the Dodge City Diocese has been participating it for many years, he said. MWA determines the topic, and puts together a brochure that describes step-by-step how to create a speech, and what elements it should include. Henning praised it, calling it a great way to teach how to write a research paper.
This year, MWA reduced its level of sponsorship for the contest at the national level to only the classroom and school level, but with interest still high in this area, teachers in the diocese reached out to MWA to find a sponsor for the Diocese level. When Sabatka learned they were looking for a local sponsor, and about the long history of the contest here, he stepped up because he feels public speaking is important and will benefit students like Darcy in whatever occupation they choose.
“Public speaking brings great benefits in life,” he said. “It’s neat to watch kids that young giving their speeches.”