Parent Advising Program

NSD exists to help students from across the country get the most out of their debate career. Debate is an important extra-curricular activity for many students, and parents are faced with difficult and important decisions throughout their child’s time in debate.

We created the Parent Advisory program to help parents make informed decisions, leveraging NSD’s expertise to help you make decisions that are right for your family and student.

Our Parent Advisory is led by NSD’s Executive Director, Tom Evnen. With two decades of experience in debate, Tom has coached some of this country’s top debaters, helping them achieve success not only in their debate careers, but also in the college application process, and, ultimately, in their post-graduation career planning.

The Parent Advisory program is free. Once you register, we will contact you to schedule an initial consultation to hear about your questions and needs. Registered parents will also receive invitations to parent Q&A sessions and informational meetings with special guests.

Request Advisor

Parents have important questions about their children’s time in debate:

NSD: A Parent's Perspective

By Dave McGinnis

I am a debate coach, a debate camp instructor, and a parent of a successful debater. For the past three summers, I’ve chosen to send my son to NSD, and we will be sending him again this summer.

Like most parents, my first concern is always my son’s safety and well-being. NSD employs a residential life staff — adult professionals who monitor students’ experience, check them in and out so that someone always knows where each student is at, takes care of them when they are ill, enforces the rules, and helps them when they have any of a variety of problems. NSD employs several people solely for this function — these are not camp instructors pulling double-duty.

As a coach, my primary concern is always the quality of my students’ educational experiences, and as a proud dad, that concern is magnified! The two best aspects of NSD are the quality of its instructors and, vitally, the quality of the student body. My son, Conal, first attended NSD after 7th grade. He was very new to debate. Yet his lab instructors were all top-flight debaters and coaches; all three of them had attended the TOC and two of them had attended multiple times and “cleared” to TOC elims. This was a “low” lab, meaning a lab for relatively inexperienced debaters; but at NSD, every lab is coached by champion-level instructors. In addition, outside of lab time, Conal had the opportunity to interact with every instructor at the camp through lectures and individual mentoring sessions. He could choose to work with anyone from a recent TOC champion to a PhD candidate in philosophy.

Possibly even more important is the fact that NSD attracts many of the top debaters in the country. The caliber of my students’ colleagues at camp drives my students to learn more. NSD hosts students from all levels of debate — from novices to national champions. The fact that the top level of debaters at NSD are among the best in the nation is a huge benefit to the entire camp, because it raises the bar for everyone involved.

This year, after Conal’s third NSD experience, I asked him if he might want to try an alternative camp, for a change of pace. He flatly refused, telling me that hs summers at NSD were among the main reasons that he qualified to the TOC as a freshman and, as a sophomore, has accumulated four TOC bids.

Many of these advantages apply to other camps you might find around the country. But over the course of a 21-year coaching career, I’ve had experience with all of them. Only NSD combines all of these characteristics.

-David McGinnis
Head Coach at West Des Moines Valley High School

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Value of Debate Camp?

Debate Camp is an incredibly enriching time that provides students an immersive experience into the world of high school debate. There's nothing else quite like it for a students interested in debate; surrounded by students who too notes of the same passion, and instructors who committed their high school careers to debate and now have expanses of experience in teaching it. For most of the staff, they spend nearly every weekend of the season at debate tournaments across the country, and they bring their knowledge to a condensed 2-3 week camp experience. Within this bubble, students exponentially grow throughout the summer.

Why Debate?

Debate is one of the most intellectually cultivating experiences a student can have. Teaching philosophy, policy analysis, and more, what debate offers is the opportunity for students to engage in college level topics at an early age, giving students an immense advantage in reading, writing, and researching. Debate is a rigorous activity that teaches students how to adapt to situations, to think critically, and further gives them the experience to learn how to break down concepts, defend their ideas, and speak persuasively. Learning debate gives students an immense advantage in their academic work along with fostering the personal convictions to learn more about the world and the ideas of those they disagree with. This is why NSD's Leadership dedicates each of their summers to teaching debate, because we believe that debate is an irreplaceable part of our lives. We hope to share at least just a portion of our passion with your student.

What is my child getting at the National Symposium for Debate?

NSD is foremost a collective of educators, and we believe that debate skill level, students should receive high quality instruction at all experience levels. At NSD, we are well known for providing experienced first year out debaters and instructors at all skill levels from our highest to lowest labs. Unfortunately, not every camp does this. This has to do with our unique approach to lab pairings, where we focus on the combination of pedagogical comprehensiveness and personal compatibility and place our instructors in labs with the belief that every student deserves high quality instruction despite their amount of experience.

Additionally, we believe that the common debate camp strategy of having large lectures with 70 students + is ineffective. We believe this leaves some students needing higher level instruction and other students needing significant catching up to stay engaged in the curriculum. To replace that, NSD's leadership created the "rotation system" where lectures are taught to individual labs so that the instruction is tailored to the needs of each students on a smaller scale. Additionally, through our office hours system, students are able to get help from staff even those who are not their lab leaders and despite level, allowing again for another point of high quality and personalized instruction. We believe that the student comes first at NSD, and our commitment to personalized pedagogy makes NSD the best debate camp in the country.

My child debates more traditionally or just locally. Is NSD still a good fit for my child?

Yes! At NSD, our staff has experience both in the national circuit style of debate in addition to local tournaments. We have national tournament champions on staff, along with their coaches, along with some of the most successful students on more traditional circuits. For instance, we have had National Catholic Forensics League National Tournament Champions, and Executive Director Tom Evnen is the winningest Lincoln-Douglas Coach in the National Speech and Debate Association history. Additionally, because we tailor our curriculum to the needs of each individual student, our staff will teach non-national circuit styles and regional styles as well. It's in this mindset that we started NSD Texas, a camp specifically tailored for the Texas circuit alone. Despite where or how a student debates, NSD provides!

What is the safety and supervision like at NSD?

NSD has dedicated dormitory staff whose sole job is to answer calls and needs of students 24/7. We hire adults who have experience caring for students to focus on this job, and they have no teaching obligations. We take security seriously. Additionally, we construct perimeters for students that limit where students are allowed to go at camp, as well as having mandatory check-ins and check-outs in the morning and evening of each camp day. Students must be checked in at the beginning of each lab or instructional session, and our dormitory staff always ensure that every student is accounted for. There is no large block of time where students are unsupervised, and each staff member is responsible to ensure that students are safe and cared for throughout camp.

My child may need to miss some days of camp at the beginning or end of camp. Should my student still apply to NSD?

Yes! Email us for more information at Further, our lab leaders will be in dialogue with students who are leaving early or arriving late in order to ensure that students don't miss out if they need to miss a day or so of camp.

What can I do to help my child throughout the season?

We firstly believe that allotting 2-3 weeks of debate camp over the summer gives students an essential time to hone their debate school outside of the school year. More than anything else, this is by far the most helpful thing a parent can provide their student. Further, ensuring that your student has good coaching will also help their success throughout the season. NSD's Coach Pairing Program allows students to be paired with NSD staff to work with them through the next year. It is not uncommon for our staff to end up coaching students in their lab or others they meet at camp throughout the year. Like a tutor, a good coach can bring a student's debating from just good to something magnificent. There are also smaller things that are helpful as well. Getting books or debate timers for students, asking them how they did at each tournament, or even just showing support after each weekend has an immense impact on students. Debate can be difficult, and parental support of all forms are appreciated in the long run.