KELLER, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – A Keller High School student is getting some national recognition.

Copper Phillips, a junior, is one of six finalists from across the country for the National Speech & Debate Association’s Exemplary Student Service Award.

Cooper Phillips – Keller High School student (Keller ISD)

Phillips’ interest in debate coincides with another interest: working with people who have special needs.

Turns out his debate teacher at Keller High School has a son with special needs.

“That opened up a world beyond high school and really inspired me to volunteer with other events outside of school,” Phillips told CBSDFW.com.

The Exemplary Student Service Award Phillips is up for, is given annually to a student who goes above and beyond to serve their school, community, city, region or state using skills they honed through speech and debate.

Service is one of the core tenets of the NSDA’s Code of Honor, which states, “A member exercises their talents to provide service to peers, community and the activity. At all times, a member is prepared to work constructively to improve the lives of others.”

Phillips explained in detail to CBSDFW.com how he has spent his high school years doing just that:

“Some of my first activities included Partners in PE, where I was the only male student enrolled in the class. It was a class with lower functioning students who were primarily nonverbal, blind, deaf and in wheelchairs. I found my passion in that class and continued on in Partners in Theatre and became an officer in Circle of Friends. There, we organized a Prom just for special needs friends who might otherwise not get a chance to attend a Prom that was cognizant of the sensory issues some students may have.

In Debate that year, I volunteered with the Chad Powell Special Olympics and became part of the Keller Debate Buddy Walk team, where we raised money for the Down Syndrome Partnership of North Texas. I have been part of that very special event for three years. I also became aware of a movement called “Spread the Word to End the Word” that is sponsored by our Debate Team. I became part of that, by hosting events the first week in March. This program brings awareness and education to those who don’t understand the negative effects of the “R” word, on those with special needs.

I was inducted into the National Honor Society my Sophomore year as well as the National Technical Honor Society and the National Speech and Debate Association, where I spent tireless hours volunteering in services I cared about, including the Special Olympics, teaching Debate to middle school students, helping to produce a special needs play (Fantastic Mr. Fox), helped in the special needs kids program at my church, and mentored students on my team by being a Debate Officer.

I am also a member of Business Professionals of America and volunteered at K-Camp, where I got the opportunity to teach elementary students about engineering, which was the highlight of my summer break! Last year, I was also heavily involved in a food drive for food banks in Houston after storms ravaged the coastline. We managed to donate 700 jars of peanut butter (the most wanted item) to those in need after the hurricanes!

My goal for my Senior year is to develop a speech and debate program for special needs students by teaching students they have a voice. Being on the Debate team has given me skills that I never would have gotten otherwise. I would love to see the same skills acquired by those you least expect. People with special needs are advocates in their own communities and I feel like they could be inspirational speakers with their own unique perspectives. I would like to see a program at Keller High School that would teach special needs students the skills that have helped me to succeed, and I want to be a part of that!

Being at Keller High School has given me a sense of services to my community and it has allowed me to work with special needs people. It has taught me that giving of myself is such a small gesture. However, by inspiring others to give of themselves (like my debate team), we then create a movement. And when people work together they can change lives, but it starts with one person. I hope the services I provide to my community and school will allow others to do the same, and continue long after I’ve moved on from Keller High School. I want to leave a legacy of kindness and giving to my hometown.”

The winner of the 2019 Exemplary Student Service Award will be announced on National Speech and Debate Education Day. March 1, 2019.