Getting recognition for extracurriculars
Most Saturdays during the spring semester, and quite a few during the fall, Leonidas Patterson can be found—sometimes in costume—surrounded by students of all ages who are eager to test their skills in one of the many contests offered by the district. One of these contests is for competitive debate, and Patterson’s commitment hasn’t gone unnoticed. He was recently recognized as Debate Administrator of the Year by the National Speech and Debate Association.
Being present for the students who gather on Saturdays to participate in debate and other competitions is crucial to him because they deserve to know “what they are doing, their presence is important and that you see them.”
Patterson was also recognized as Texas Debate Administrator of the Year by Lone Star District Speech and Debate organization to which he was nominated by the Dallas Urban Debate Alliance, a long-time district partner for growing participation in debate in the region.
Patterson, director of Student Activities, was described as being integral to the success of the program in Dallas ISD and a true advocate of the program by making sure coaches have everything they need to run the program at their respective school, that students have the transportation to attend the debate competitions and workshops, and that everything runs smoothly.
Patterson—who has been involved in extracurricular activities throughout his career—says the program’s success is due in great part to district leaders who have continuously invested more than $500,000 annually to fund the debate program.
His involvement in and commitment to extracurricular activities began well before he became a teacher at Mansfield High School. Growing up, extracurricular activities gave him an outlet for his creativity and opened his eyes to possibilities.
“I’ve always understood the value of extracurricular activities,” he said. “Growing up, I was in theater, I was in the yearbook, so I knew how it gave me a sense of direction and influenced my life. It opened doors for me. I saw my first college because I was participating in theater. Learned how to write because I participated in yearbook. It taught me all these things.”
Now, after years of teaching in Mansfield and Dallas ISD and a stint in the district’s Communications Department, Patterson is making a difference by bringing to Dallas students the opportunities that opened doors for him.
“The district’s debate program has had a positive impact on the students it has served, which is evident by the many Dallas ISD graduates who return to make sure current students receive the same life changing experiences that inspired them during their wonder years,” he said this month during his acceptance speech for the national award.
The focus in offering debate districtwide was to give students access to policy debate and everything they need to be successful in the program—coaches, transportation, resources, etc. In Dallas ISD, any student who participates in the programs can do it at no cost. Student Activities also takes care of all of the logistics of participating in tournaments and distributing resources so debate coaches at the campus can concentrate on working with the students and not worry about the rest.
Whether it’s running the yearbook, directing student theater productions or running districtwide programs, Patterson has found that if extracurricular activities are available, students will eagerly take advantage of them and have access to tools and resources need to be successful.
“Students involved in extracurriculars have to pass to play, which is an incentive to get good grades, and it also creates opportunities for them to learn leadership, teamwork and organization,” Patterson said. “Studies have shown that by participating in extracurricular activities, students can explore their own interests and talents and create a social network. They also get an opportunity to say, ‘This is something I want to do with my career.’ Whether it be a teacher, a lawyer, an advocate, participation gives them those soft skills.”