Who We Are
By extending the opportunity of debate to middle school students across California at no cost, we strive to empower the next generation of global citizens and pioneers, conferring them with the foundation for success in any walk of life.
At Cicero Academy, we are a group of high school students at Polytechnic School who seek to promote passion for public speaking and debate among middle school students. Cicero Academy traces its roots back to 2017, when Benjamin Hudnut and Spencer Wilson--two Polytechnic School alumni--established a debate program at McKinley School in Pasadena in order to expand the opportunity to compete in debate to underserved communities.
Having experienced firsthand how the experience of debate can transform one's life, we sought to perpetuate their legacy. In 2021, we established Cicero Academy, an offshoot of the McKinley Debate Program, to expand the scope of its predecessor by broadening its activities to all middle school students in Southern California irrespective of location or socioeconomic status.
As Cicero, a legendary Roman statesman and rhetorician, asserted, "cultivation of the mind is as necessary as food to the body." We believe that debate enriches the mind. By enabling students to compete in debate, we hope to hone students' critical thinking and public speaking skills, kindle passion for social issues, and foster the next generation of changemakers.
Meet the Coaches
The coaches at Cicero Academy boast over two decades of collective debate experience in The Middle School Public Debate Program (MSPDP), the High School Public Debate Program (HSPDP), Policy debate, Parliamentary debate, and World Schools Debate Competition (WSDC).
As relatively recent graduates of the Middle School Public Debate Program and accomplished high school debaters, we intimately understand the challenges that middle school debaters confront and how to surmount them. Debate has transformed each of our lives, nurturing new passions, mounding aspirations, enabling academic success, and enriching academic pursuits. It is our mission to ensure that more students can access the formative benefits of debate.
Milla Chavez '24
Milla Chavez ‘24: a senior at Polytechnic School and a captain of the debate team, Milla has competed in debate since 7th grade. She has experience in Policy, World Schools, Parliamentary, and MSPDP debate. In addition to coaching the McKinley debate team, Milla has served as a lab leader for several debate summer camps and competed on USA Debate's Development team. Beyond debate, Milla is a captain of Polytechnic School's Ethics Bowl team, a student council member, a leader of Latinos Unidos, and Chief Copy Editor of the Paw Print.
Janie Drum '24
Janie Drum '24 is a junior at Polytechnic School and a captain of the debate team. Competing in debate since the seventh grade, she has experience in MSPDP, HSPDP, World Schools, and Parliamentary debate. In addition to debate, Janie competes on the Polytechnic Model UN and Moot Court teams. She also serves as an assistant editor of the Polytechnic Paw Print and a member of the Judiciary Council. Janie enjoys debating about environmental issues, and foreign policy.
Alena Tejavanija '25
Alena Tejavanija ‘25 is a sophomore at Polytechnic School and has been an active member of the debate program since the seventh grade. Alena has experience in MSPDP, World Schools Debate, and National Circuit Policy Debate, however, she primarily competes in Policy Debate. Alena has consistently placed among the top speakers and teams and has won several regional and national tournaments. Alena enjoys researching and debating critical theory and different solvency advocates.
Mariel Vargas-VonBreymann '25
Mariel Vargas VonBreymann ‘25 is a sophomore at Polytechnic School and has been competing in debate tournaments since seventh grade. Gaining distinctions such as first place team in MSPDP tournaments and first speaker in World Schools Debate Competitions, her passion for speaking and creating solutions for current issues continues to grow. Beyond debate, Mariel serves in the Poly Student Arts Council and plays tennis for the school’s team.