About

Meet

Our team

LAILA POLK THOMAS

Co-Founder/Co-President

Laila is a rising senior at Newton South High School. There she has been an active member of the speech and debate team since 2017. She has competed in Congressional Debate and Extemporaneous Speaking. She is currently the Varsity captain of her team.

Laila is a national qualifier in Congressional Debate, a 3 time states qualifier in Congress Debate, and was a finalist at the Columbia Tournament

Outside of debate, she is passionate about public policy and civics engagement.

Laila identifies as African American, and uses she/her pronouns.

MAYA MAKAROVSKY

Co-Founder/Co-President

Maya is a rising senior at Newton South High School. She has been competing on her high school debate team since freshman year. She is currently the Varsity captain of her team.

She competes in Varsity Public Forum. Maya has qualified for states, nationals, and the Tournament of Champions, the most prestigious tournament for public forum. She has been a quarterfinalist for both the Columbia Tournament and Princeton Tournament.

Outside of debate, Maya is interested in the intersection of neuroscience and psychology. Her hobbies include playing the piano and dancing.

Maya identifies as Russian Jewish American and uses she/her pronouns.

Donny Tou

Instructor/Outreach Coordinator

Donny is a rising senior at Newton South High School where he has been a member of the speech and debate team for 2 years. He has competed in Public Forum debate.

At Spark Scholars, Donny is responsible for community outreach, aiming to both spread the workshop’s mission across the region as well as mobilize volunteers in order to provide judging, instructing, and resources. Donny is a national qualifier and a 2x states qualifier in Public Forum debate, championing several local tournaments and receiving several speaker awards as well.

Outside of debate, he is passionate about public policy and volunteering. He runs his high school’s Red Cross Student Organization, where he mobilizes student volunteers for numerous humanitarian projects.

Donny identifies as Chinese American, and uses he/him pronouns.

Julian Fefer

Director of Spark Scholars Academy


Julian is a rising senior at Newton South High School and a member of the school’s Speech and Debate Team, he has won multiple state public speaking awards, championed several local tournaments, and qualified for selective national tournaments. He is currently Novice coordinator for his team.

At school, aside from debate, he uses his leadership, organizational, and public speaking skills to coordinate a large group of students in publishing a monthly newspaper.

Julian’s favorite parts of teaching are collaborating and connecting with passionate students and seeing young debaters develop into talented presenters with strong public speaking skills.

Julian identifies as Argentinian Jewish American and uses he/him pronouns.

ANAIS MOBARAK

Instructor/Administrator

Anais Mobarak is a rising senior at Newton South High School and participates in her school’s Speech and Debate team. She is currently the Novice captain of her team.

Over her three years in Public Forum debate, she has accumulated impressive competitive success, including reaching double octafinals at the NCFL Grand Nationals and quarterfinals at the Princeton and Columbia Invitational tournaments.

She has also qualified to the state tournament and the Tournament of Champions

Outside of debate, she loves traveling with her family, cooking, and reading.

Anais is Venezuelan and Lebanese and uses she/her pronouns.

WASAN RAFAT

Instructor


Wasan is a rising sophomore at Newton South High School and is a member of her school's Speech and Debate Team. She competes in Varsity Public Forum Debate.

Wasan has qualified for states and has attended multiple national and local tournaments throughout her debate career. She was a quarterfinalist at the Lexington Winter Invitational, and was a triple octa-finalist at the Harvard Tournament. She won the Massachusetts States tournament for Novice Public Forum.

Beyond debate, Wasan is passionate about social justice and participates in many activist-oriented clubs, including the American Civil Liberties Union. She is also very interested in biomedical science and engineering. Her hobbies include baking, writing, and cycling.

Wasan identifies as Arab American (Libyan and Egyptian) and uses she/her pronouns.

ASEEL RAFAT

Outreach Coordinator

Aseel is a rising senior at Newton South High School and has been a member of the speech and debate team for one year. She has competed in Original Oratory and Prose Reading.

At Spark Scholars, Aseel is responsible for community outreach, aiming to both spread the workshop’s mission across the region as well as mobilize volunteers in order to provide judging, instructing, and resources. Aseel has performed well in many MSDL tournaments.

Outside of Speech and Debate, she enjoys watching movies and creative writing. Aseel identifies as Libyan/Egyptian American and uses she/her pronouns.

ELLEN YANG

Web Designer

Ellen is a rising senior at Newton South High School. She has been part of the speech and debate team since her freshman year. She has competed in Congressional Debate for the last 3 years and is currently ranked #2 in the state of Massachusetts.

Ellen is also a 2x national qualifier in World's Schools Debate, a 3x state qualifier in Congressional Debate, and a semifinalist at the Princeton Tournament.

Outside of debate, Ellen dedicates her time to using business for social good. She is currently the COO of Desircle, the #1 international community for freelance designers, and the founder of HelloBrandBox, the Gen Z marketing agency that created Spark Scholars' website.

Debate should be for everyone.

Our mission  is to increase African American and Latinx participation in debate and give more people the incredibly valuable skills gleaned from debate.

These skills are necessary for impactful advocacy. In times like these, the world (and our country) need strong voices from a variety racial of backgrounds. 

Debate as a high school activity allows students to gain many lasting skills that are critical in shaping the policy makers of the future. Debate helps students gain confidence, curiosity, and communication. Debate also teaches students skills including research, critical thinking, listening, inquiry, and problem solving.

This workshop will also encourage more African American and Latinx participation in debate, setting students up for success if they choose to join the activity in the future.

Spark Scholars was founded in June 2020 by a team of racially diverse, passionate high school debaters.

Awards and Achievements of Coaches

Tournament of Champions

One of the most prestigious debate competitions in the world. Hosted annually by the University of Kentucky.

NSDA Nationals

Hosted annually by the National Speech and Debate Association. Competitors qualify from each state to compete nationally.

NCFL Grand Nationals

Hosted annually by the National Catholic Forensics League. Competitors qualify from each state to compete nationally.

National Invitational Tournaments

Include awards at tournaments hosted by Columbia University, Harvard University, Princeton University, and Yale University.

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