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Values


VBI strives to provide the best summer debate instruction available anywhere. In designing our program we guided by a set of values that we believe our key to VBI's unprecedented success.

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Values


VBI strives to provide the best summer debate instruction available anywhere. In designing our program we guided by a set of values that we believe our key to VBI's unprecedented success.

Coming in to camp I had high expectations, and I left with those expectations smashed. Not only did they push me to new levels of debate, they pushed me to meet new people. The debate skills I learned here were great, but the people I met here and the family I made were the best.
— Jerry Wu (Berryhill/Gelfer/Quiroz lab)
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Individual Attention


"VBI was a great experience. The small student-to-staff ratio made it so you could become close with the staff members and get personalized training. I learned more from two weeks at debate camp than I did throughout the school year."

Amanda Jiang (Tanner/Rao Public Forum lab)

Individual Attention


"VBI was a great experience. The small student-to-staff ratio made it so you could become close with the staff members and get personalized training. I learned more from two weeks at debate camp than I did throughout the school year."

Amanda Jiang (Tanner/Rao Public Forum lab)

At VBI, our goal is to provide each student with the personal attention needed for them to get the most possible out of their camp experience. Every student that comes to VBI is different: they have distinct strengths, weaknesses, goals, and interests. We do everything possible to structure our program in a way that maximizes individualized instruction through one-on-one and small group work, and robust elective offerings. Meeting that goal starts with our better than 4:1 instructor-to-student ratio, which ensures that every debater who comes to VBI has access to consistent one-on-one and small group time with any instructor. This ratio is one of the keys that unlock the rest of our curriculum.

Instructor Elyssa Alfieri works with with a student one-on-one during some down time at VBI Philadelphia.

Instructor Elyssa Alfieri works with with a student one-on-one during some down time at VBI Philadelphia.

No other camp gives you the personal specific feedback or amazing staff ratio. The staff is diverse enough to cover any skills you want to improve on. Compared to other camps, VBI is more about what you want YOUR camp experience to be.
— Aimun Khan

As a result, VBI students are placed in labs of 8–12 students (ensuring no one gets lost in the crowd), get more rounds without time wasted while others debate, can find help at Socrates Hours without a long wait, and get one-on-one time with a mentor every day. 

Because of our limited lab size, instructors are able to spend more time on drills, small group discussions, and individual meetings, instead of lecturing to the entire group. At VBI, lab leaders get to know each student personally and tailor the lab's curriculum and assignments to the unique needs of each student. 

The mentorship program guarantees that every VBI debater has an instructor in their corner who makes sure they are getting the help and guidance they need. At the start of camp, each student is assigned a faculty mentor best suited to hep them pursue their interests, and improve their weaknesses. Each day, students meet with their mentor one-on-one to work on anything and everything they want to improve. 

Coming from a small town where debate is not prominent, it taught me the skills I will need to be successful both on the local and national level! The staff was incredible, and spent countless hours with me working on anything I needed. The individually tailored learning was what made camp especially great ... I never felt that I had to fight for time with staff ... No matter what the question was, there was someone on staff who had specialized in that during their debate career. I never had a question that someone couldn’t give me a great answer to!
— Rachel Gallagher
Socrates Hours at VBI Swarthmore

Socrates Hours at VBI Swarthmore

At Socrates Hours, students can access any instructor on staff for one-on-one or small group work. Being able to work personally with instructors beyond their lab leaders and mentors means that students branch out and gain exposure to unique ideas and perspectives. Socrates Hours is one of the many opportunities that VBI students have to take charge of their own camp experience, because whatever their interests, they will find an expert to work with in our large and diverse staff.

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Innovation


"Other camps teach you how to play the game. VBI teaches you to change it."

— Akhil Gandra

Innovation


"Other camps teach you how to play the game. VBI teaches you to change it."

— Akhil Gandra

Instructor Danny Debois (Harvard '18)  lecturing at VBI Philadelphia. 

Instructor Danny Debois (Harvard '18)  lecturing at VBI Philadelphia. 

We emphasize to our students that being the best is not simply mastering the same skills and strategies that every other debater works on. To truly maximize their potential, a debater needs to do things that other debaters will seek to emulate. The best debaters innovate

VBI provides a challenging, but encouraging, environment that pushes students to improve by exposing them to new ideas and challenges. We do everything we can to give debaters the tools they need to take their debating to to the next level and change the game. That starts with having the best teachers possible. From experienced teachers and coaches to the most successful and knowledgable recent graduates, every summer VBI brings together a diverse group of the best debate educators in the country. Regardless of their interests, every student will find an instructor who is not only an expert on that concept, but who is excited to help them dig in. 

 

VBI offers one of the best learning environments in the country. The coaching staff is wonderfully diverse, so that you get to learn from a wide variety of debate styles; there’s no one telling you that you have to debate a certain way or only read one type of argument. Rather, students are encouraged to be creative and innovate - to stay ahead of the competition instead of just copying arguments that other teams make.
— Rebecca Kuang (2013 TOC Champion)

But innovation is not just something we teach debaters, we take it to heart. No one thinks about debate camp more than VBI. Each year, we spend countless hours rethinking every aspect of our curriculum based on student and coach feedback and emerging debate trends, introducing new programs when necessary, and always seeking to improve on the things that work. 

VBI was an incredible camp experience. I can’t imagine a better community where challenging yourself is encouraged and supported, and where every person is invested in each other’s successes.
— Madi Norman

Indeed, many of our most successful programs quickly become the new baseline for other summer programs. Whether it is providing students with a personal mentor, offering a topic preparation session, or guaranteeing a 4:1 ratio, we lead and others follow. 

However, while our curriculum is often imitated, it is never equalled. For example, when other camps adopted our mentorship program, participation was limited to only the most advanced students, or those who paid more to attend additional sessions. On the other hand, we have consistently improved our program year after year, guaranteeing every student a personal mentor, and creating “mentor teams” to simulate the process of working on a team during the season. 

Our goal is to make every VBI the best debate camp ever, so keep an eye out for the exciting improvements coming to VBI 2016! 

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Community


"I didn't really know what to expect when I came to VBI, but I don't think that I ever expected it to be so sad to leave. I found friends and mentors and debate skills and family. I became much more confident in myself as a debater and a person. It reminded me how much I love debate and the people in it, and I know that I'll always carry what I've learned with me."

— Student in the Dosch/Hoffa/Li lab

Community


"I didn't really know what to expect when I came to VBI, but I don't think that I ever expected it to be so sad to leave. I found friends and mentors and debate skills and family. I became much more confident in myself as a debater and a person. It reminded me how much I love debate and the people in it, and I know that I'll always carry what I've learned with me."

— Student in the Dosch/Hoffa/Li lab

VBI is a family. Every lab leader has something unique to teach you; every person in your lab is like a sibling who brings something special to your lab. VBI has given me the skills to succeed, but they are rooted within my VBI family.
— Allison Gorokhovsky

Our students and instructors often say that VBI is a family, which is true in many ways. Our small labs and mentor teams foster close friendships that many students maintain for years after attending VBI. And, because most of our instructors attended VBI as students, there is a strong sense at VBI of continuity, a common bond, between generations of debaters. 

The staff is exceptional, the students are great, and the experience is by far the best I’ve had at any other camp. Everyone is so friendly and wonderful, it really fosters a sense of community and family. We’re a family of debaters around the country, and VBI is at the center of it.
— Ethan Qi

We value this family environment both for its own sake and for its pedagogical benefits. Debate camp can be a stressful place: it is easy to be intimidated by the amazing debaters on staff and to regard other students as competitors. But VBI's family feel fosters trust between peers, and between students and instructors, because students knows that their peers and their teachers care about them. For that reason, students quickly become comfortable asking questions in lab, approaching national champions at Socrates Hours, and working with their peers towards the shared goal of getting better at debate. These benefits extend throughout the competitive season, as students learn from and support each other while competing at tournaments together. Seeing other members of the VBI family at tournaments makes students feel at home in competitive debate. That's one of the reasons why so many of our students return to VBI multiple times and are eager to return as instructors. 

Students who attend VBI join a family of over 6000 former students and staff, whose accolades and love for their institution are unparalleled. They have matriculated and excelled at every Ivy League university and have gone on to attend top graduate programs in law, business, political science, philosophy, and many other fields. They have won national and world debate championships, moot court competitions at top law schools, multiple Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships, and honors on Forbes magazine's "30 under 30" list. We could not be more proud of our family. 

VBI has allowed me to venture out in the debate world. I have met incredible friends, role models, and debaters I hope to keep in touch with for the rest of my life. I will miss the camp life so much, but I hope that I can experience this again. I did Public Forum and I absolutely loved it.
— Krishna Vaidyanathan
The thing about VBI that makes it different is the number of people who are there all the time who are willing to work with you as much as possible to get you better. I think that it is just incredible, and is better than any other working environment or debate coaching that I have seen.
— Ben Sprung-Keyser
National champion, world champion, and Harvard alumnus Ben Sprung-Keyser attended VBI as a student (both before and after winning Nationals) and as an instructor. Ben was VBI's second Rhodes Scholar. 

National champion, world champion, and Harvard alumnus Ben Sprung-Keyser attended VBI as a student (both before and after winning Nationals) and as an instructor. Ben was VBI's second Rhodes Scholar. 

Either despite or because of their goofiness, one of these VBI '02 students was named Forbes 30 Under 30 in Law and Policy. Two others won or coached winners of the Tournament of Champions before pursuing careers in law and venture capital. 

Either despite or because of their goofiness, one of these VBI '02 students was named Forbes 30 Under 30 in Law and Policy. Two others won or coached winners of the Tournament of Champions before pursuing careers in law and venture capital. 

One of my favorite memories was being able to see debaters in each generation of VBI students subsequently return and become great instructors at the camp . . . to see a former student take something she had learned at camp, improve upon it, and then teach the new-and-improved skill or concept to a younger generation of students. I loved seeing that process of innovation over the years.
— Neil Conrad
VBI prepared me to combat any type of argument that I might see in LD. The curriculum taught me how to dissect arguments down to their components and then to find flaws or criticisms to beat back the argument. This type of education improved my analytic skills and helped me succeed during my senior year of debate and beyond.
— Noah Star
VBI alumnus Noah Star won the Tournament of Champions and several other national titles. He is now a senior at Northwestern University and was, most recently, a Truman Scholarship finalist. 

VBI alumnus Noah Star won the Tournament of Champions and several other national titles. He is now a senior at Northwestern University and was, most recently, a Truman Scholarship finalist. 

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Diversity


VBI is the most diversified camp. They hire instructors strategically so they have the ability to teach a very wide variety of concepts to the kids who attend. No matter what you want to improve on, VBI will have the resources you need.

Student in the Tambe/Tartakovsky lab

Diversity


VBI is the most diversified camp. They hire instructors strategically so they have the ability to teach a very wide variety of concepts to the kids who attend. No matter what you want to improve on, VBI will have the resources you need.

Student in the Tambe/Tartakovsky lab

VBI strives to hire instructors and serve students from all backgrounds, circuits, and idealogical persuasions. There is no one "VBI style" of debate. Instead, we believe that debaters learn the most from exposure to a diverse array of viewpoints. That is why we bring together coaches who disagree and have different backgrounds. 

Last year, students from 36 states and over 250 schools attended VBI. That is because coaches, parents, and students across the country trust VBI more than any other summer program. The VBI model works, on every circuit, and at every level. 

Regardless of whether you prefer to debate on the local or national circuits, whether you are more interested in traditional or progressive styles, or whether you are partial to highly philosophical or more public policy-focused approaches to debate, we think you deserve a debate education designed to meet each student's unique needs. Our instructors have coached students to success, or achieved success themselves, on every circuit and with every style. That’s why our students have won 11 Tournament of Champions, 10 National Speech and Debate Association championships, 10 National Catholic Forensic League titles, and countless state tournaments across the country.  Each of those tournaments requires a unique set of skills and our students have excelled across the board. 

The Cowger/Nebel/Theis/Quiroz lab gets to know each other on the first day of VBI Chicago. 

The Cowger/Nebel/Theis/Quiroz lab gets to know each other on the first day of VBI Chicago. 

As a result, every student at VBI is able to find instructors who are experts in the type of debate concepts and strategies they are want to learning more about, and students from across the country who share their interests. The diversity of the VBI family also means that students (and staff) are constantly exposed to new and unique perspectives, challenging their views, improving critical thinking, and helping them discover what they truly believe. 

 

If you want to go to a camp where you can find an instructor who will be skilled in whatever form of debate you can think of, VBI is for you. This camp goes leaps and bounds before any other LD debate camp in terms of staff and has so much to offer. I learned more in these 2 weeks than most of my career.
— Sean Fahey
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Fun


"The world's funnest debate camp... in the world."

—Sweyn Venderbush

Fun


"The world's funnest debate camp... in the world."

—Sweyn Venderbush

Debate can be stressful: there is a lot of work, and the competitive aspects of debate can be overwhelming. But it is impossible to succeed in debate without loving the activity. That is why it's important for debate camp to be fun. 

Fun permeates nearly every aspect of VBI. From silly drills in lab to games at mentor team meetings, students learn from VBI how enjoyable debate can be. 

One of the staple traditions of VBI is the Omegathon, which pits labs against each other in the ultimate quest for glory. The Omegathon consists of a dozen activities throughout camp, ranging from a limbo contest and lab movie posters to a turtle race and water balloon toss. The most popular Omegathon event is the infamous "Pub Quiz" trivia night, which consists of absurdly difficult questions that (somehow) someone always answers correctly. The Omegathon champions receive a prize at the end of camp. 

Halfway through camp, students have a free day to relax and spend time with friends doing things other than debate. Examples of past free day activities include excursions to Santa Monica Pier, Chicago's Magnificent Mile, and tours of nearby colleges. 

I’ve been to about every major debate camp there is ... VBI has definitely been the most helpful while also being one of the least stressful camps. Other camps are ultra competitive to the point where camp is honestly no longer enjoyable, but VBI fosters a family environment, where I’m able to have fun with my lab (who became my best friends during camp) and also do hella drills! And criticism after drills, no matter who I was doing them with, was always constructive, and never condescending, as I’ve experienced at other camps. VBI? More like VBY not?
— Kathy Bond