Do speeches belong in an elementary school curriculum?
Courtland's Aalanna Ramona Rusnak says with some emphasis, yes, and the nine-year-old Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School student is sharing her views in the 2014 Royal Canadian Legion Public Speaking Contest. Her Grade 1-3 speech won the branch contest in Delhi on Feb. 16, she won her zone in Hagersville, and she had good feedback from judges winning the district event in Hamilton on April 12.
"And now I'm going to Milton," said nine-year-old Rusnak, looking forward to this weekend's area championships, one of four areas in the province.
If she wins the primary division in Milton, she will earn a trip to the provincial finals in Ottawa.
"At my last competition, I was a little bit nervous, but once I got on stage and started speaking I felt like I wasn't too nervous."
Last year Rusnak was able to make it to her third Legion competition, winning in Delhi (branch) and Simcoe (zone), and finished with a bronze medal in Fort Erie (district). The 2013 speech about her brothers had a humorous theme. "How me and my sister have the brains and my two brothers, well... I just talked about them. At the end I said, 'they are pretty good brothers.'
"The fun is definitely saying it, presenting in front of people, but writing it was fun too. I brainstormed my ideas and then put them into sentences, and they became my speech."
Contestants are judged on whether they speak clear enough and loud enough, she said, and how it is presented – eye contact and how you stand.
"And the topic," she added. "Last year, since I did it on my brothers, it wasn't too serious. Mine was very funny and the one who won, it was on reading. So it definitely has something to do with the topic."
She went into her first competition without any public speaking experience, but she said competing in figure skating helped her confidence.
Having an outgoing, personable personality also helps, said her father Rick Rusnak.
"She's mature for her age and she's definitely got a good attitude and perspective that way," he said.
She also benefited from advice on posture, stance, eye contact and using different tones, given by her older sister who did some modeling.
"I spoke at my older brother's wedding and I really liked it. So the next year (Grade 2) I decided that I would do my speech in front of the class. And then I went to the school (competition), then Delhi."
This year Rusnak surpassed those results and on the way overcame some unexpected bumps in the road. Her family had been told to be in Simcoe for zone registration at 9:30 a.m., but after arriving at an empty Legion discovered it was in Hagersville. Racing to the Hagersville Legion, they arrived in the nick of time. She registered, took her coat and hat off and sat down. Seconds later they called for speaker No. 5. Rusnak bounced back up and nailed it.
Her speech this year, just under four minutes in length, is 'how her school board took pubic speaking out of the curriculum, and communication skills.' Public speaking is optional in the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board, and Rusnak opposes that decision.
"I think they should bring it back. Definitely.
"The benefits are confidence – it builds that. Also you get to share and express your own ideas and what you feel is either right or what's wrong. And if you look around these days, everyone's on their devices and electronics. No matter where you are, there's one, two, or more people on their devices. They don't know how to speak anymore. They focus on their electronics and they don't really pay attention to the outside world."
Being optional this year, few students in her class did speeches.
"I think around five or six in my class did it, something like that. Maybe seven or eight, and there's 24 in my class. It wasn't very many.
"I think they're nervous and they don't have confidence to go up in front of everyone and do a three to four minute speech."
Rusnak tried to encourage some of her friends to try it, with limited success.
"I said 'It's not that scary, it's just in front of our class, you shouldn't be scared to do it – it's a lot of fun.' My one friend said she didn't have time to write a speech because she had hockey. My other friend did do a speech."
In addition to thanking her parents and family for their support, Aalanna Ramona summed up by thanking her teacher Cam Sinnesael, and Our Lady of Fatima teacher L. Gubbels and school principal Terry Dunnigan.
"Mr. S. let me present it front of my class so I could be ready for this and Mrs. Gubbels, I said my speech in front of her and she gave me some tips."