Education feature: Marshall students conquer fears

Dagan Gallegos,14, takes questions from the class about what he would do if he ruled the world in Keith Ingram’s public speaking class at Marshall Junior High. CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

As he faced a classroom of his peers, his limbs betrayed his anxiety.

He shoved his hands deep into his pockets. Clad in white sneakers with red shoelaces, he shuffled his feet away from the podium, then toward it, then away.

Despite his fears, Dagan Gallegos, 14, completed his assignment.

“If I ruled the world,” he began, “I would help anyone whose house was damaged in Hurricane Katrina. I would help everyone get what they needed.”

For Dagan and all-ninth graders in Clovis schools, public speaking is part of the curriculum, according to school officials. So in this particular Marshall Junior High School classroom, braving the stares of peers is necessary.

For many, the mandatory course marks their initiation into the world of public speaking.

As students approach the podium, their personalities emerge. John “J.C.” Sandoval, 15, tugs his shirt down as he begins his speech, an ode to cafeteria food.

“I wouldn’t change cafeteria food,” he said, his voice quivering.

“I like the chicken nuggets,” he explained to quizzical classmates.

The speeches of Dagan and J.C. were capped by applause from their classmates. The warm response is typical, according to Marshall Junior High School communications teacher Keith Ingram.

Getting public speaking practice in school prepares students for the sometimes harsher arena of the real world, according to school officials. Effective public speakers are more likely to succeed in their career and relationships, they said.

“Public speaking is something students will need to be proficient in for the rest of their lives,” Marshall Junior High School Principal Diana Russell said.

In his classroom, Ingram ties public speaking to real-world situations. His students participate in mock job interviews, and professionals visit his classroom to speak about their jobs.

“A job interview,” said Ingram, “is a speech. It may be a one-on-one speech, but it’s a speech. What job is possible without being able to talk to people?”
By the end of the course, Ingram said many of his students are adept public speakers.

“I have students who cry at the beginning of the class. By the end of the first semester, they are fighting over who gets to give their speech first. That happens every semester,” Ingram said.

“The main deal,” he said, “is for them to get over their fear.”