Mr. Abelkop is the debate coach for Chattahoochee. He is also an alumnus of the school.
Speculator(S): When did you start thinking about teaching debate?
Abelkop(A): I debated for four years at Chattahoochee, and then debated for four years in college at Michigan State University. And somewhere in those 8 years I determined that I loved the activity and wanted to teach it and coach it, and bring the gift of debate to other students. So initially, right after college, I coached debate at the University of Kentucky for a year. Then I coached debate at the Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for a year. After those two years I decided that I still wanted to keep coaching debate. Later, a job opened back up at Chattahoochee, and Mr. Duncan gave me a phone call saying he wanted me to go back and coach.
S: So it was a coincidence?
A: Yeah, it never really was a master design or plan, it just happened. But I love it. Teaching is not easy, and it’s not very well respected. And the combination of it being very challenging, doing long hours on top of it being not paid very well is a deterrent.
S: Has Chattahoochee changed in the past ten years?
A: When I was a student here there were six to seven hundred more students so it was a lot more crowded. There were about 40 portables out back in the senior parking lot where we now have one. That was a big issue. Parking was really tough—there weren’t enough spaces for the amount of students that wanted to park. A lot of students either didn’t get parking spaces or had to park at Taylor Road[Middle School]. And juniors shared spots. Some days your friends would drive, other days you would drive. The student body has also changed a little bit. When I was growing up, there was a whole host of neighborhoods that were districted to Chattahoochee because when I was in school, Northview, Johns Creek, and Alpharetta didn’t exist. My sophomore and junior year was when they first built Alpharetta, and that’s when Dr. Burke, who used to be the principal here, went to go open Alpharetta. And at the time Mr. Duncan—he was an assistant principal— became the principal in my junior and senior year. And I have friends that lived in neighborhoods districted to Chattahoochee, whereas now they will be districted to Johns Creek or Alpharetta, which is weird. It’s strange to think about it, that I might have never known those people had the other schools existed at the time.
S: Ten years ago, was the school population as diverse as now, or was it more homogenous?
A: It always was a diverse school. The student body always had racial and socioeconomic diversity. I do think it’s more diverse now, but it was also definitely diverse back then. It was never homogenous, never completely one thing. There’s people from all over the place here. And I think that has always been true. I think that the more diversity the more empathy, and the ability to examine other people’s perspective and to appreciate diversity and celebrate it. It also helps diminish the fear of what’s different. Nowadays, both in terms of the way that society has progressed and also in terms of how the school progressed, diversity is something that’s more celebrated and less feared.