Education

'Tiny' private school earning big speech honors

Cedar Valley Christian School hosted its first speech conference Monday

Alex McCusker, senior at Maquoketa Valley High School, tells “Piggie Pie” by Margie Palatini in the storytelling category during the Individual Speech contest at Cedar Valley Christian School in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Alex McCusker, senior at Maquoketa Valley High School, tells “Piggie Pie” by Margie Palatini in the storytelling category during the Individual Speech contest at Cedar Valley Christian School in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Her students attend a “little, itty-bitty, tiny school,” but coach Robin Crow says speech competitors from Cedar Valley Christian School in Cedar Rapids are earning big honors this year.

Fresh off a group performance Feb. 17 at an All-State event for the Iowa High School Speech Association — a “huge honor,” Crow said — the small, private school of about 250 K-12 students hosted its first-ever conference event Monday. Fourteen of its own students competed.

“It has been I don’t know how many hours to get it all put together,” Crow said of the year it took to plan the Tri-Rivers Conference competition. “ ... This first time prepping and learning and figuring it all out has been a lot.”

It took more than 50 volunteers to pull off Monday’s event, including many school parents and members of its adjoining church, Cedar Valley Bible Church.

For students from the 12 schools represented at the competition, it was a chance to perform in front of judges ahead of a district competition this weekend.

“It’s not as stressful at this point in the competition because, at this stage, it’s not detrimental at all,” said Cedar Valley student Tyler Snodgrass, 15, after his performance in the conference’s storytelling category.

“This is just the smaller conference and stuff, where it’s not too large if you fail. This is just the point where you get advice from the judges and it helps you prepare for the next bigger stage of the event.”

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Cedar Valley Christian students will compete at the district level — against public Cedar Rapids high schools, Prairie High, Xavier, Linn-Mar and more than a dozen other schools — on Saturday in Center Point-Urbana.

Tyler practiced his competitive pieces — a pirate tale titled “Ol’ One Eye” for storytelling and a rendition of “Reviewing the Situation,” from the musical “Oliver!,” for a solo musical performance — almost nonstop leading up to Monday, his mother, Melanie Snodgrass, said.

As a Cedar Valley teacher, Snodgrass was at the school Monday for Tyler and as an event volunteer.

“The students from the different schools have been amazing,” she said. “It’s been really nice to help talk with them to not be so jitterish or uptight — just letting them know we’re thinking about them and not to worry about the way they perform.”

Down the hall from Tyler, Cassie Ross, a 15-year-old from Lisbon High School, performed in the poetry event — reading a dark take on fairy tales “Little Red Riding Hood” and “The Three Little Pigs.”

She was nervous, she said, but enjoyed watching the audience’s reaction to the piece and “watching people laugh.”

“I just think it’s a really great opportunity for them to get to build those public-speaking skills in a fun way,” said Beth Ross, Cassie’s mother.

“You get to high school or college and you have to take those public-speaking classes or speech, and a lot of times they’re just kind of dry. ... This gives them a chance to work on the presentation, the emotions, the expressiveness.”

Making students effective communicators is speech’s overarching goal, Crow said.

“We believe there is nothing more important than learning how to communicate well,” said Crow, who also is the vice president of the association’s southeast district.

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“That’s what this is really all about — students learning how to communicate effectively and confidently in front of a group of people.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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