Debate team president with dyslexia earns Jonathan Brody Award


photo by Grace Edgeworth

Senior Kasia Drewniak poses with awards she has received during her time in debate. Drewniak started debate her freshman year. “I have a Polish mom and she was looking at stuff that would look good on my college applications when I was in eighth grade,” Drewniak said. “She [said] ‘Kasia, you talk way too much, you should join debate.’ So that’s what I did. And then I grew to love it a lot, which is crazy because I wasn’t even going to do it if it wasn’t for that.”

People always told senior Kasia Drewniak to play a sport. Like many young students with dyslexia, she was told that her best shot at college entry was through athletics. In her senior year, Drewniak is the president of a team — the debate team.


On Sept. 11, Drewniak received the Jonathan Brody Award at Grapevine High School’s annual Tournament of Champions (TOC) for her service and perseverance in debate. Drewniak’s coach, Tim Lewis wrote an essay nominating her for the award and scholarship.


“I was definitely surprised [when I won the award],” Drewniak said.  “When I heard about it I [thought] ‘Whoa, that’s crazy.’ I always think somebody else deserves an award more than me. I was online debating [at that tournament] when I found out. I [woke] up my mom in the middle of the night to tell her. It was the first time ever I think [they awarded] someone based on learning disabilities, so I thought that was really awesome.”  


Drewniak competes in policy debate, a category that requires reading information aloud, and Lewis said he primarily follows her lead in their approach in competition.  Drewniak also serves the debate community by tutoring through TeleMentors and volunteering with other teams.


“I’m a student with dyslexia, so I have to debate a little differently since debate relies on a lot of writing and intense reading comprehension,” Drewniak said. “I live in a very normative learning environment, but thanks to that I have used my dyslexia in order to educate others in debate. I have joined programs such as women mentors, where it’s a group of only women or gender minorities where we work [with] growing teams that don’t have a lot of funding.”


According to a 2017 article from the National Center for Learning Disabilities, one in five children in the U.S. have learning or attention issues, but students with these issues go to college at half the rate of other students.


“I am lucky because I have parents that are like—‘it [doesn’t] matter, you better get good grades,’ so I am top of my class, but I know too many kids who are told ‘no,’ and then that’s it,” Drewniak said. “Kids who I grew up with, we would go to the special classrooms—most of them have already dropped out, so it’s crazy how disproportionate it is. It’s so sad to me, so I always want to do anything I can to inform people about it. Even these people in debate who are supposed to be top of their knowledge will assume you’re just stupid when you have a learning disability.”


The Grapevine tournament, at which the Jonathan Brody Award is given, is a national tournament where the award has notoriety across a vast geographic span.


“I think the Jonathan Brody award being given to her speaks for her [leadership capabilities] and more, [such as] her mentorship — particularly with our young women, particularly with our students who are working through their own personal needs, accommodations and situations — and her ability to operate and organize such a compelling group of students,” Lewis said. “I think the award speaks for itself: Kasia is incredible.”