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SPEAK: Promoting Powerful Voices!

SPEAK started as a Vermont Law School student group in the fall of 2014 with a mission to promote debate, public speaking, education, and advocacy for VLS students and community members, including individuals incarcerated in Vermont. Since its inception, SPEAK has strived to live up to that mission, continuously growing and expanding to reach new populations and promote powerful voices. In the past two years since SPEAK began, Vermont Law School students have partnered with debaters from the University of Vermont’s Lawrence Debate Union to spark several projects and initiatives...and we won’t stop there! Here are just a few of our accomplishments over the past two years:

  • Offered public speaking and debate instruction at Vermont Law School;
  • Provided three full-length public speaking programs and founded a weekly debate group at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, Vermont’s only correctional facility for women;
  • Partnered with the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center, Vermont’s only correctional facility for adolescents, ages 13-18;
  • Presented “SPEAK: Promoting Powerful Voices” at the New England Clinical Conference hosted by Harvard Law School;
  • Conducted multiple, day-long student and teacher training sessions for WeDebate in Milan, Italy;
  • Awarded Three Albert Schweitzer Fellowships; • Recipient of the VLS SBA Student Group Pro Bono Award ’15;
  • Highlighted by Vermont Public Radio, UVM Communications, and the Wall Street Journal for our work with incarcerated populations;
  • And much more to come!

None of the initiatives that are mentioned above could have happened without the support of Vermont Law School. We are so grateful to the Student Bar Association, our faculty mentors, and the students who share our excitement, volunteer for our programs, and troubleshoot the “boulders” that pop up along the way. Your trust in SPEAK and enthusiasm for our mission has enabled our band of volunteers to do some exciting things, and we are extremely grateful.

So we are thrilled to announce that, due to all of your support and the requests that we have received for future programs, SPEAK will be continuing to pursue its mission to promote public speaking and advocacy as a social-profit! SPEAK’s transition from a student-organization into a non-profit has been very exciting, and we are incredibly fortunate that our friends at VLS have supported us by providing advice, assistance, and constant optimism. Special thanks are due to VLS superstars Greg Johnson, Margaret Barry, Shirley Jefferson, Robert Sand, Mark Latham, Laura Murphy, and Oliver Goodenough who have all helped to give SPEAK the confidence and ability to move forward with this project. Thank you for believing in SPEAK, and the VLS and UVM students who volunteer to teach every week at the CRCF. We are grateful and humbled!

Interested in learning more about SPEAK Inc. and the VLS and UVM students who make our work possible? Check out our new website (a HUGE thank you to Six Degrees and Chris Ryan for design help!), follow us on Twitter, or join us on Facebook!

Learn More about SPEAK Inc. here! Visit our new website, with photography by Vermont Law School alumna, Ivy Garlow, and design by Chris Ryan from Six Degrees: http://speaksolutions.wix.com/speak

Or find us on social media!

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/speaksolutions/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SP3AK_inc

Here is my attempt to answer as many of the “But, how does that work?” questions as I can:

1. What is the non-profit called? SPEAK Inc. (“SPEAK”)

2. What does SPEAK Inc. do? SPEAK provides a public speaking curriculum that uses debate as a tool to teach professional skills and encourage self-confidence. SPEAK will continue to facilitate opportunities for students at Vermont Law School who would like to improve their public speaking skills or gain teaching experience in correctional settings to be a part of our programs. Want to get involved? Contact Jess (jessicabullock@vermontlaw.edu)!

3. What happens to the student group formerly known as SPEAK? SPEAK is no longer under the umbrella of VLS as a student organization because it is now a corporation in Vermont. However, the VLS SPEAK Chapter, which has a nearly identical mission, function, and structure as the former SPEAK group, remains as an SBA funded student group (basically, the student group changed its name). The VLS SPEAK Chapter will continue to host events on campus and strive to promote public speaking and advocacy on campus. In contrast, SPEAK Inc. will continue to teach at correctional facilities and high schools, coordinate VLS and UVM volunteers who want to gain teaching experience in correctional settings, and maintain our international partnerships. The VLS SPEAK Chapter is a “chapter” of SPEAK, similar to the Federalist Society, and may use the SPEAK name with SPEAK Inc.’s permission.

4. Who will lead the VLS SPEAK Chapter? We are extremely proud to introduce Laura Savall as the President of the VLS SPEAK Chapter! Laura has been with SPEAK since she started at VLS in the fall of 2015. She is also a volunteer for the SPEAK Prison Debate Initiative and a joint- recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship ’16-’17. Laura has big plans for the student group next year and I cannot wait to see where she leads the VLS Chapter! Thank you Laura, for your positivity, enthusiasm, and commitment. You are a lifesaver!

5. Will SPEAK still offer programs for VLS students? Of course! Through either the student group or the non-profit, VLS will have access to our curriculum and instructors.

6. How can VLS students get involved in SPEAK Inc. and volunteer to teach at correctional center and/or local organizations? Contact one of the following SPEAK folks:
SPEAK Director, Jessica Bullock
VLS Supervisor, Will Lowrey
Assistant Director, Toni Girardi

7. How can VLS students get involved in the VLS SPEAK Chapter on campus? Contact:
President, Laura Savall
Secretary, Al Dean
Treasurer, Elise Iannone
*Vacancy for VP to be elected this fall!

We hope that this message answers some of your questions about SPEAK and the VLS SPEAK Chapter. Thank you all for your support throughout this exciting transition! Of course, we will be sure to keep in touch with updates about SPEAK’s news and projects, and you can expect to hear from Laura next fall about recruitment and on-campus events. A quick preview of some our most recent news and events for this summer:

  • VLS student, Jessica Bullock, collaborates with UVM alumna, Mariel Golden, to host the first SPEAK program for the African Refugee Development Center. SPEAK’s partners in this endeavor include the African Refugee Development Center, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the Community Education Center;
  • VLS students Laura Savall and Kassie Tibbot pilot creative writing, resume building, and interviewing sessions at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility;
  • VLS & UVM students Toni Girardi, Laura Savall, Elise Iannone, and Franny Solnick run an 8-week debate program at the CRCF. Led by VLS Supervisor Will Lowrey!
  • VLS student Jessica Bullock teaches the SPEAK curriculum to undergraduate students at Beihang University’s Third Annual Debate Conference in Beijing, China.
  • And much, much more to come this fall!

Whew, if you read to the bottom of this message, you are a champion! If we left anything out, or if you have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact Jess at jessicabullock@vermontlaw.edu. Wishing you all a wonderful, warm summer and I cannot wait to see you back at VLS this fall!


SPEAK in the News!


SPEAK and Emerge Vermont host Ready to Run!

click for larger image

Thank you to everyone who came out to the "Ready to Run!" event tonight! The panelists were inspiring and I am so grateful to Gov. Kunin, Representative Kesha Ram, Representative Sarah Buxton, State's Attorney Rose Kennedy, Deputy State's Attorney Ashley Hill, and Emerge Vermont representative Sarah McCall for attending this evening. Many thanks to the VLS faculty and students who came to the event and, of course, to our SPEAKers who made everything run smoothly!

Emerge Vermont is changing the face of Vermont politics by identifying, training and encouraging women to run for office, get elected, and to seek higher office. In the 222 years since its statehood, Vermont has never elected a woman to the U.S. House of Representatives, or to the U.S. Senate, and only 1 woman has served as Governor of Vermont—Gov. Madeleine Kunin. Currently, only 26% of Vermont’s State Senators are women.


SPEAK presents "SPEAK: Promoting Powerful Voices" at the New England Clinician's Conference at Harvard Law School

SPEAK group photo

The New England Clinic Conference that was held at Harvard Law School ON Nov. 5-7. Of particular note was the presentation by VLS and UVM students. Jessica Bullock, Victoria Scozzaro, Arnell Limberry, Luke Dodge, Isabella Olson, and Ryan Tartre presented "SPEAK Vermont: Promoting Powerful Voices" at the Conference. The group spoke to clinical legal educators who came not only from New England, but from Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, and as far west as Arizona. Jessica spoke about SPEAK's mission, conferences and programs at VLS campus, and she described the Prison Debate Initiative. Arne spoke about collaborating with SPEAK on the Race, Law and Community Policing program at VLS and why that program was important to him. Then the SPEAK group gave a demonstration debate where they shared speeches written by participants in the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility (CRCF) for their recent debate on the topic: Individuals convicted of a criminal offense ought be allowed to opt into military service rather than incarceration.

The presentation generated much discussion. There was considerable interest in how the program built important advocacy skills, and in how the corrections projects empower inmates by helping them articulate their ideas and learn how to be heard. Jessica shared an observation by one of the women at CRCF who said that no one had seen her as a person before the debate they held, not even her attorney; the debate gave her the chance to assert an identity beyond the crime she was serving time for.

All in all, our students rocked the crowd at Harvard.


SPEAK Runs First Program at the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center

Students at the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center did an incredible job performing their final debate on December 16th on the topic, "This house believes that the U.S. government should have full access to citizen’s phone records.” An incredible group of students and a wonderful faculty! Thank you for hosting SPEAK!


The Right to Marry and the U.S. Constitution: An Evening of Debate and Discourse

The VLS SPEAK Organization and the Social Justice Scholars sponsored The Right to Marry and the U.S. Constitution at VLS campus on April 14th. The evening started off with a student debate on the topic: The U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to marry for same-sex couples. SPEAK President and Social Justice Scholar, Jessica Bullock, moderated a fantastic, well-rounded debate between SPEAK performers Breanna Hayes, Shane Prate, Kevin Gillespie, and Melissa Kent. The debaters gave a spectacular performance and represented the best of both sides of a complex issue.

Following the debate, VLS faculty panelists Dean Jackie Gardina, Professor Greg Johnson, and Professor Peter Teachout joined the conversation and brought powerful perspectives to the discussion. The event concluded with faculty panelists fielding a question and answer session open to VLS students and local community members. A tremendous "Thank you!" to the evening's faculty panelists for all for your support and your overwhelming dedication to the students at VLS. (Dean Gardina came and spoke on our panel even though it was her birthday!)

Finally, a tremendous "Thank you!" to Kathy McCullough, Mr. Bill Bonn and the VLS Tech. Dept., Ms. Martina Rutkovsky and the VLS Café Team, the Social Justice Scholars and faculty advisors, and the many “behind the scenes” SPEAK volunteers who made the event possible!


Wrapping up SPEAK’s First Year at VLS

This has been SPEAK's first year as a student group and I cannot believe how our organization has grown! I am grateful for the partnership and encouragement that so many of the students and faculty have provided for SPEAK throughout this year. We look forward to collaborating with you to spark many more exciting initiatives in the fall!

This year, SPEAK successfully co-hosted three conferences at VLS, offered free public speaking training to VLS students and community members, assisted local debate organizations at tournaments, and started the SPEAK Vermont Prison Debate Initiative at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility.

Additionally, SPEAK received the annual VLS Student Group ProBono Award for a student group dedicated to community outreach. We could not have accomplished all of this without the consistent support of our faculty advisors, Margaret Barry and Greg Johnson, the VLS Student Bar Association, and the VLS community.

Thank you for a wonderful first year and all of your support!


An update on the SPEAK Prison Debate Initiative

I want to extend a huge, "Thank you!" to everyone who has worked so hard to make the SPEAK Prison Debate Initiative at the Chittenden Regional Correctional facility such as success over the past six weeks!

Click here for more on the Vermont Prison Debate Initiative!

At this point, we have completed our first full-length debate program. The program culminated in a public debate on March 28th on the topic: The government should provide "second chance" transitional housing for inmates who have completed their minimum sentence or are about to complete their sentence. This motion was written and selected by the inmates at the CRCF. The debate was incredible! So much passion and energy around this issue. I am very pleased to announce that the inmates have requested that the debate program continue every Saturday throughout the summer! Therefore, we have officially founded the CRCF SPEAK Debate Society for ongoing debate practice and instruction!

Thank you to my co-instructors Luke Dodge, Tori Scozzaro, Isabella Olson, and Ryan Tartre who have put so much time and effort into the success of this program! Thank you to Professor Margaret Barry and Professor Greg Johnson at VLS who have supported me throughout this process and to my debate friends and mentors Alfred Snider, David Register, and Johannes Wheeldon who helped to make this possible!


SPEAK represented at the UVM North American Women's Debate Championship

SPEAK celebrates International Women's Day by assisting the University of Vermont in hosting the North American Women's Debate Championship.

Current and former UVM Lawrence Debate Union President's Becca White and Jessica Bullock promoted the event on WCAX byt debating the current issue of school consolidation in Vermont. Check out the video!

SPEAK members Jessica Bullock and Victoria Scozzaro attended and adjudicated at the event.

Additionally, it was an honor to hear the Honorable Governor Madeleine Kunin, address debaters at the conference regarding the power of female voices in politics and policy. Governor Kunin, thank you for supporting the LDU, Vermont's students, and female voices!

SPEAK President Jessica Bullock moderated a Question and Answer Session with Governor Kunin following her speech and SPEAK looks forward to collaborating with Governor Kunin in the Fall of 2015...stay tuned for more information! Check out the video!

SPEAK and the Criminal Law Society host Marijuana Legalization Conference at VLS!

VLS & UVM debaters Kevin Gillespie, Mariel Golden, Becca White, and Elijah LaChance as teamed up and took the podium to debate whether Vermont should legalize Marijuana. SPEAK's student debaters were quoted by physicians, politicians, law enforcment officials, and local business owners throughout the day-long conference. SPEAK was proud to represent VLS for an excellent day of discourse on a relevant Vermont topic!

Videos from the conference:
Panel 1 | Panel 2 | Panel 3 | Panel 4 | Panel 5 | Panel 6 | Panel 7

Speak members pose at Marijuana Debate Conference

Presentations from the conference:
Registry and Dispensary - Lindsey Wells
Bill Summary - Senator Zuckerman
Harrison Act and History of Marijuana in the US - Michele Childs
Policy, Economics and Facts on Marijuana - Jack Cole
Marijuana: Culture vs. Health Science - Dr. Win Turner
Legalization the Optimistic View - Dr. Joseph McSherry


NOTE: The Vermont Law School SPEAK Chapter is a student group and as a separate (but proud!) chapter of SPEAK Inc., a non-profit incorporated in Vermont dedicated to promoting powerful voices by encouraging speech, persuasion, education, advocacy, and knowledge. For more information visit: http://speaksolutions.wix.com/speak.