Spring High School senior Toneelea Shaftner, a longtime member of the school’s speech and debate and student theater groups, has received the Academic All-American designation from the National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA) for the 2020-21 school year. The award – for which Shaftner was also recognized during this month’s meeting of the Spring ISD Board of Trustees – recognizes her commitment over the course of her high school career to active participation in speech and debate tournaments, training and related activities, both before and during the COVID-19 era.
“The Points of Pride awards are reserved for one of our highest, highest honors,” said Director of Performing and Visual Arts Dr. Joe Clark in his introduction to the recognition during this week’s board meeting. “These are often when we recognize a program or an individual that has garnered either state or national recognition.”
The NSDA Academic All-American award recognizes high school students who have achieved the degree of “Superior Distinction” by earning at least 750 points in their NSDA profile through their speech and debate activities and accomplishments. In addition, Academic All-American winners must have completed at least five semesters of high school, demonstrate outstanding character and leadership, and must have earned a GPA of at least 3.5 on a 4.0 scale. According to promotional materials from NSDA, only the top two percent of NSDA member students ever receive the Academic All-American award.
Marilyn Ocker, Spring High School’s speech and debate coach and theater department head, said she was surprised last November when she discovered that Shaftner was a potential NSDA Academic All-American honoree. Having coached her in speech and debate since she was in middle school, Ocker knew Shaftner was dedicated and talented, but had no idea she had managed to qualify for the award. Shaftner is the school’s first student ever to receive the distinction, which, Ocker told trustees, is “one of the highest honors in speech and debate.”
“Toneelea started her speech and debate journey five years ago at Dueitt Middle School when I took her to her first tournament,” Ocker told board members. “She won first place in reader’s theater, and she was then bitten by the competition bug.”
Students gain NSDA points through their participation in debate meets, tournaments and other events sponsored through NSDA and its partner organizations. Doing well at competitions helped Shaftner build up even more points, Ocker said, but emphasized that her consistency and dedication were instrumental in achieving the Academic All-American honor. As of the day of the board meeting, Shaftner had far surpassed her earlier total, and was now up to more than 1,300 speech and debate points and the rank of “Outstanding Distinction.”
Since the second semester of her junior year, when the pandemic forced the cancellation of most regional and national in-person events, Shaftner and her fellow speech and debate teammates have taken their craft and competitive streak to the virtual stage, where they’ve developed a new range of skills and techniques to help them be better presenters online.
Ocker praised Shaftner as an expert speech and debate participant, but also as a talented student leader and committed teammate who has helped to promote and grow the school’s speech and debate program while mentoring other students to help them develop and be successful.
“Toneelea, we’re very, very proud of you,” Ocker said. “Thank you so much for representing Spring ISD the way that you do.”