Stevenson seniors create public speaking based initiative

  • From left, Mahum Sheikh, Aditi Singh and Jeanette Han, running an online practice lecture before their weekend classes.

    From left, Mahum Sheikh, Aditi Singh and Jeanette Han, running an online practice lecture before their weekend classes. Courtesy of Mahum Sheikh

Updated 10/9/2020 2:34 PM

Three Adlai E. Stevenson High School seniors, Mahum Sheikh, Jeanette Han and Aditi Singh, have spearheaded an initiative to teach elementary schoolchildren public speaking skills.

Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, many students have not had the opportunity to practice their public speaking skills. The service, known as Apex Speech, provides resources to these children to practice these skills through once-a-week Zoom calls and office hours from respective schools in their area.


Since joining various public speaking activities at school, such as Congressional Debate and Model United Nations, the trio has been able to showcase their passions at the local, state and national level. Aditi advanced to the semifinal rounds at the Harvard national debate tournament, while Mahum and Jeanette also were semifinalists at the Durham debate national tournament.

While those honors were rewarding, the three avid debaters wanted to harness the skills they had acquired and spread them throughout the community. Throughout their four years of involvement, their interaction with younger children first began with the Middle School Debate program hosted at various middle schools across the Stevenson district.

The experiences they were able to make from the middle school programs inspired the three to begin brainstorming other ways they could affect their community through speech, and Apex was formed.

Apex started out small, but always had big goals. During the summer, by publicizing their initiative both in and out of their communities, the group was able to attract children from all over Chicagoland. What differentiated Apex from other debate camps was that not only was it completely free for one-on-one services, but it also accommodated children from all backgrounds, including those that had potential language barriers.

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These obstacles never deterred the tutors from their goals; instead, it further strengthened Apex Speech goals to reach out to as many children as possible.

After the conclusion of the summer camp, the trio wanted to continue to expand the initiative and reached out to local Chinese schools to see if they could teach their classes. After reaching out to various schools in the Chicago area, the group was able to begin hosting a 15-week course under the Xilin Northwest school.

As the three worked with new students, they continued to expand their curriculum to cover other important aspects of public speaking such as content lectures and effective rhetorical strategies.

Since beginning the classes for Xilin Northwest, the group has been able to continue developing their love for teaching and working with younger students.


"While working with Apex Speech and all of the instructors there, I felt my debate skills and techniques improved drastically. Each session I worked on something different, ranging from rhetoric to refutations, so by the end of the program, my skills in debate and public speaking in general greatly improved," one of Apex Speech's first students said.

While Apex wants to continue reaching out to different groups beyond Chicagoland, they are planning more initiatives for the future. They are speculating on future plans of writing a book and starting a podcast.

Additionally, Apex hopes to reduce disparities in debate pertaining to gender and symbolize their endeavor with Pink Legal Pads. They hope to raise funds for the distribution of such legal pads to not only promote debate, but also support girls who wish to use the power of their voice.

To contact Apex Speech, email

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