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Gavel Club Builds Confidence, Teaches Leadership

The unique public speaking program at Pacific Coast Charter School prepares students to be successful adults.

It’s a moment not often seen in high school: students clamoring for the chance to give speeches in class.

But this is normal at the Gavel Club, a public speaking class at Pacific Coast Charter School.

The class meets the requirements for an English credit, though several students said they enrolled in Gavel Club just because it’s fun.

“I’ve enjoyed the class,” said Sabrina Casini, 18. She is in Gavel Club for a second semester because she likes the program and said she may join Toastmasters when she graduates in the spring.

While other high schools teach public speaking, the PCSC program is the only school-based Gavel Club in Santa Cruz County.

Structured like Toastmasters, an international public speaking club for adults, the class helps kids build the confidence and skills to speak in front of a group, be it at a job interview or with friends.

Rita Barber, who has taught career exploration at PCSC for a decade, approached the school about adding Gavel Club in the fall. She thought the public speaking class would build kids’ confidence and teach them leadership skills, in addition to meeting curriculum requirements.

“I’ve watched these kids grow and change,” said Barber, who holds the titles Advance Communicator Silver and Advanced Leader Bronze within the Toastmasters organization.

Jacob Derosc, 16, said he is in Gavel Club for the English credit but also because he found he had trouble speaking to groups or even in front of his friends. His goal is to join the U.S. Marines and hopes having strong public-speaking skills could help him move up the ranks.

“I think this is just a good skill to have,” the Watsonville teen said.

The student-driven class meets weekly and is run like a Toastmasters meeting. The teens have leadership roles: president, sergeant at arms, evaluator, timer and even a grammarian, who counts the use of filler words, such as “um” and “uh.”

“They’re in charge,” Barber said. “I really feel like living up to that type of leadership really prepares them for adulthood.”

The students speak confidently and look one another in the eye. They’re not shy about critiquing one another and say they learn from their peers’ comments.

“It’s constructive criticism,” said Casini, explaining that students don’t take the comments personally. “It’s just something. They become aware of it They can take it in stride and learn from it. … It’s definitely not to make them feel bad.”

Students learn about organizing a speech, vocal variety, using visual aides and other elements of public speaking.

Barber said Gavel Club is one of several creative programs at PCSC, a kindergarten-through-12th-grade charter school in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District where students create individualized learning plans.

“This is a very unique school,” said Barber, whose own son—now a senior at UC San Francisco—attended PCSC.

Students there learn what it takes to be successful adults, she said.

“It’s great to watch these kids have these ‘ah-ha moments,’” Barber said.

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