CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)-  Ask most high school students to name their hobbies, and public speaking is not likely to be among them. In fact, it ranks among many people's biggest fears.  But some very outgoing students at Howard School of Academics and Technology actually enjoy the art of debate, and it's winning them national acclaim.

Teacher Mason West is preparing his Howard debate students for an upcoming presentation at the Volkswagen plant, but brushing up on German is just one of their tasks.  They're also scheduled to visit Nashville, Washington (the Howard University School of Law) and Jamaica. It didn't take him long to find great debaters.

West said, "Most of the students who excel in debate get in trouble for running their mouths, challenging other students and teachers.  They love to talk, they love to argue.  So it's my job to take their natural abilities and hone them."

Students say the debate team is a way of showcasing their personalities, and representing their school in a positive light.

Sophomore Tavisha McColley said, "I was so excited when I was recommended for this class. There's a lot of talking, researching, and you have to learn how to network.  I may get into law, and I will need to know how to debate."

Clayton Mason, a senior, said, "Once you get on the debate team, people hold you to a higher standard.  You're required to do more for your school.  And Mr. West is a great motivator."

As part of the practice for upcoming competitions, students speak before Mr. West, as well as occasional visits from a tough "judge." Principal Dr. Paul Smith critiques them with Simon Cowell-like precision.

"You need to fully pronounce your words, use good diction, learn to pause at the right times.  Don't talk so fast, everyone needs to hear every word you say," Dr. Smith counsels one student, as the class erupts into applause.

Some of the students are hoping for careers in government or politics, and the Howard debate team just may be their ticket. 

"These are opportunities that a lot of kids don't get," Mr. West said.  "They're doing a great job representing themselves, their opinions and Howard School.  I wish the whole community could visit this class and see what they're doing.  They would have a different opinion of Howard."