WEST ORANGE, NJ — Middle school students gathered at the West Orange Public Library on Aug. 5 for a crash course in public speaking at the penultimate session of “TeenSpeak,” a workshop by the Michael Aymar Foundation that teaches forensics and public speaking. The foundation, founded last year in memory of Lacordaire Academy middle school teacher Michael Aymar, hosted the third of four workshops at the library to help teenagers feel more comfortable speaking in front of a crowd.
“We talk about forensics and how to speak and we make you look at the fun side of it, if that’s possible,” Amanda Aymar, the president of the foundation and Michael Aymar’s wife, said at the event. The foundation works with middle school children in all areas of education and holds fundraisers to give scholarships to Catholic school students, such as those who attended Lacordaire Academy, which is located in Montclair.
According to the nonprofit foundation’s website: “Mr. Aymar believed that children are ‘God’s best thing’ and Catholic education provides the best environment for learning not only math, science and grammar — his specialty — but essential values like compassion, self-reliance and respect.” For more information about the foundation, visit www.michaelaymarfoundation.org.
“We wanted to share his lessons. When students are learning skills like this younger, they are on their way to having more control later,” Amanda Aymar said at the event. “If they can overcome their struggles now, high school is easier.”
She added that sometimes activities outside of school can provide valuable tools to students. “We can help fill that gap for people who want to explore,” she said.
To open the hourlong workshop, eighth-grade Lacordaire student Matthew DeSopo performed a comedic monologue to demonstrate effective public speaking. Then, the rows of chairs were moved into a circle so that students could learn speaking techniques by using Shakespearean insults. Inspired by the language that Shakespeare used in his writing, Lauren Mazzari, the head of the upper school at New York City’s St. Luke’s School and a former colleague of Michael Aymar’s at Lacordaire, used the insults to teach eye contact and voice inflection.
“You have to know how to deliver the line,” Mazzari said. Friendly name-calling started in the group, with phrases like “thou grizzled horn-mad rabbit sucker” flying around the room. Mazzari said what matters is how the phrase is said, not what it means.
“No one’s going to know if you mess up,” she told the students. “You don’t even have to know what they mean, but if you deliver it well you can tell it’s supposed to be an insult.”
The program, which only lasted an hour, was designed to help middle school students take steps in speaking aloud confidently.
“Middle school is a hard time to ask kids to do this, because it’s a time when nothing matters more to them than what their peers think,” Mazzari said. “This is a good starting point. It’s a thing that is approachable.”
The TeenSpeak series will be at the West Orange Public Library for one more workshop on Saturday, Aug. 12, at 10:30 a.m. Students in grades five through eight can register at www.wopl.org.
Photos by Amanda Valentovic