more about our labs

We begin by prioritizing student and staff development.

The National Debate Forum prides itself in being student centered and making its curriculum decisions based on what will produce the most development for its students. As a part of this process, the National Debate Forum has created a team of educators in charge of executing every level of the curriculum - from lectures to labs.

The National Debate Forum is the only summer institute that has a Director of Student and Staff Development.

Steve Schappaugh, an associate principal at Des Moines North High School, and former Director of Educational Programs at the National Speech & Debate Association, brings more than a decade experience in overseeing faculty and student development in high school and middle school settings. In this role, he oversees an extensive evaluation process for every student. This evaluation process allows every single student to receive an individualized full mid-camp evaluation and an individualized end of camp evaluation to track their progress based on their goals. Our evaluations are emailed to students at the conclusion of every camp.

Steve Schappaugh also serves to help develop our staff. No matter how long you have debating or coaching debate, every summer produces new perspectives and new innovative ways to teach speech and debate. By prioritizing staff development, we prioritize the education that your students receive is not just the best in the country, but is continually getting better with every session. Our Junior Instructors regularly comment that the focus the National Debate Forum places on them in developing as educators is one of the many reasons the camp is so successful.

what sets our labs apart from other institutes?

teacher consistency matters

Unlike other institutes, the National Debate Forum provides students with the same two or three instructors in their lab every day. This consistency is vital to planning individualized curriculum for the lab and developing meaningful relationships that help produce real growth.

In 2019, our labs across every session averaged a student to faculty ratio of 4.3 to 1. This ensures that every lab has the faculty to provide students with the one on one attention they deserve. With a smaller student to faculty ratio, our faculty are able to build relationships that set your student up for success the next season.


extensive lab placement process

Our lab placement system is a tried and tested process where our administration and senior instructors collect information from every student and even from coaches that fill out our coach recommendation form. Unlike other institutes who use single speech activities to evaluate your placement, we collect qualitative and quantitative research to create the best lab placements possible.

Our staff of 90+ active instructors from virtually every region and circuit in the country means we are always ready to answer your questions about our placement process. We take a variety of questions into account to provide you the best placement in terms of building the best relationship with your lab leaders. If you have any placement questions, please feel free to reach out to

tiered labs ensure focus on students’ needs

Similar to our lecture series, our labs are broken into tiers to help provide a more individualized approach to the execution of our curriculum. Creating these tiered labs mean that everyone in your lab is at your skill level. We do not mix skill levels in the area where you spend the most time at camp. We believe that lab time is instrumental is developing better debaters.

In the Apex level, we create a targeted approach to help students reach their potential in big situations. Typically, students in this level will have already attended a major national championship once - it is our goal that we build off the experiences that got them to that point and help them advance farther in the previous season.

In the Summit level, we teach a targeted curriculum to help students find consistent success on the national circuit. Typically, students in this level are very close to achieving major success - but need the extra push to help them #ReachTheirSummit.

In the Forum level, our curriculum focuses on the big picture while fine tuning the specific skills that will make debaters successful. Typically, students in this level have a strong command of fundamentals, but are just starting to witness and experience high-level debates. It is our goal that by the end of the session, students in this level are no longer spectators of debate at the highest level - but rather active participants.

In the Symposium level, our curriculum teaches students how to create a solid foundation to #ReachTheirSummit. We focus on the big picture of what it takes to compete at the highest level.

In every level, labs meet for about 46 hours over the two weeks.