Local student recognized for public speaking

Japhet School focuses on fostering good communication skills

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published April 3, 2017

 Owen Perry, of Royal Oak, and Logan Wrona, of Madison Heights, both eighth-graders at Japhet School in Clawson, took home the third- and second-place awards, respectively, in the Optimist International Oratorical Contest.

Owen Perry, of Royal Oak, and Logan Wrona, of Madison Heights, both eighth-graders at Japhet School in Clawson, took home the third- and second-place awards, respectively, in the Optimist International Oratorical Contest.

Photo provided by Japhet School

MADISON HEIGHTS — Logan Wrona believes in the power of a positive attitude.

The Madison Heights resident and eighth-grader at Japhet School also knows how to comfortably articulate his beliefs in front of a large audience of strangers — a skill that recently earned him high marks in the 2017 Optimist International Oratorical Competition.

Wrona took second place at the annual event, sponsored by the Lakeshore Optimists in Grosse Pointe. Fellow Japhet eighth-grader Owen Perry, of Royal Oak, placed third. Their topic was “What the world gains from optimism,” and their success reflects Japhet’s focus on public speaking. 

This marks the eighth year that Japhet, an independent school in Clawson, has participated in the contest and won awards. Japhet sent nine students, competing against three other schools.

For his speech, Wrona focused on Helen Keller, the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, as an example of optimism leading to greatness.

“Optimism encourages people to be happy, and happiness inspires progress,” Wrona said in an interview following the contest. “Helen Keller inspired other handicapped people by showing them that their disabilities don’t have to hold them back, and they can actually do stuff in this world.”

Having attended Japhet since first grade, Wrona has plenty of practice with public speaking. That’s because every single student at Japhet has an opportunity to speak before the entire school each year during the Student of the Week presentation.

Wrona said that recognizing the people in the room makes this more approachable. The school maintains a respectful and supportive atmosphere where everyone in the assembly is rooting for the public speaker, and they’re always understanding if there are any glitches or nervousness.

Additional opportunities to speak before an audience come during the school’s science fair and social studies fair, where the students can test their skills in front of an audience of people they don’t know or see very often.

“Whenever you’re up there, it’s good to have eye contact with everyone. You see the audience and the audience sees you. It makes them feel like you know them better when you can look them in the eye when you’re speaking,” Wrona said. “It’s also good to speak at a relative speed — not too fast and not too slow — a comfortable speed where you’re not stressing out or anything. And if you can smile and be happy, it’s not too difficult to give your speech.”

This was Wrona’s second time participating in the Optimist International contest. He enjoyed it both years, and he said it’s always inspiring to see his classmates give their speeches.

“It’s also nice seeing people I’ve never seen before go up there and speak,” Wrona added. “Seeing their courage gives me courage to do my own speech.”

Cathy Mohan, head of school at Japhet, said the awards reaffirm that their students are ready for public speaking.

“You can see how the kids grow each year,” Mohan said. “We definitely allow the students to shine as they’re ready, giving them the foundation and support to share their voice. We always talk about respect for self, respect for others and respect for the learning environment; those three concepts are seen everywhere in the school. There’s this atmosphere of love (for the speaker), so they know they don’t have to be fearful when they’re up there. We’re all on the same team.”

Betsy Stecker, the communications director for Japhet, said in an email that oral communication is a hallmark of Japhet’s program and something the school takes very seriously.

“Students begin speaking to the entire school community — to all students, teachers and some guests — in first grade. The curriculum for young children begins by helping them be comfortable addressing a group. As they get older, presentations become more complex,” Stecker said.

She noted that students design visual aids and make use of technology. By fifth grade, they know how to move through a visual presentation, such as a slideshow, while speaking. By the time they reach eighth grade, they’re ready to deliver a 25-minute keynote speech about one of the school’s character qualities, such as peace, initiative or judgment — there are 18 in all.

The keynote speech may also include a skit, video or read-aloud story, and there is always a visual of some kind. These take place during the “InSPO” assemblies on Monday mornings. InSPO is short for Inspiring Speakers, Participants and Observers.

“At the beginning of the year, we explain to students the responsibilities of being a speaker, being a participant and being an observer, so that everyone is actively engaged,” Stecker said.

In addition, students gain experience in front of a crowd by way of the school’s large-scale drama production each year in May, where children in preschool through eighth grade come together to act and sing.

“Public speaking isn’t just about speaking in front of a group,” Stecker said. “We take comfort in the knowledge that our graduates enter high school well-prepared for speech class, competitive forensics, Model United Nations or drama club. However, the value of being a comfortable orator is more about being confident in addressing other people for other reasons.

“This means our students, once in high school, are more comfortable talking to their teachers one on one and leading small group projects,” she said. “When there is a conflict, they have more courage to state their point of view rather than stay silent.”

For Wrona, the skills learned at Japhet are themselves a form of optimism — the belief that he can speak his mind and make things better. It’s something that’s caught on at the school.

“Just seeing a person who’s optimistic can make you happy and want to be optimistic as well,” Wrona said. “It’s contagious.” 

Japhet School is located at 839 S. Crooks Road in Clawson and can be reached by calling (248) 585-9150.