Meet Chicago Bulls College Prep’s Founding Debate Coach

Photo of Ms. Truong smiling away from the camera. She has her hair in a bun. She is wearing a black dress. The background has rainbow circle graphics. The image has a blue overlay. The title, surrounded with yellow bordering, says "Meet Bulls Prep's Founding Debate Coach" on the bottom left side of the image. On the bottom right side of the image is the Noble Schools logo.

“I think knowledge is cool. I think learning new things is cool.”

Haiyen Truong, an AP U.S. History teacher and debate team coach at Chicago Bulls College Prep, lives by these words. We got a chance to sit down with her, learn about her story, and why knowledge is so cool to her – and, most importantly, how her beliefs in learning inform her work at Bulls.


Haiyen Truong is a Chinese-Vietnamese American who came to the United States with her parents when she was four years old. She and her family were able to come to the U.S. with the aid of her uncle, who fought in the Vietnam War as a pilot on the U.S. side. Through his work for the U.S. government, he gained citizenship – and thus, Truong and her family were able to migrate to the United States.

Once in America, Truong and her family settled near the Bay Side area of California, where she says she first got her impulse and thirst for knowledge. As an immigrant, she initially only spoke two languages: Vietnamese and Chinese. In school, Truong was provided a translator in her class until she was proficient enough to speak and understand English without a translator. As her ability to communicate in English rose, though, she lost some of her proficiency in Chinese.

“I think, culturally, I was brought up more Vietnamese. Because of my father and his family, I grew up speaking Vietnamese. There was no one for my mom to speak Chinese to, so I forgot a lot of my Chinese.”

In her adolescence, she was keenly aware of the inequalities in the education system. She noted that once she learned English and could perform well on tests, she was often separated from her peers and placed into “advanced” classes. Classes which often were majority white, with very few students of color, and even fewer Black students. The advanced classes did not reflect the diversity of the student body as a whole.

“I was in the 98th percentile for math and 99th percentile for reading, and so then, all of a sudden, I was in special reading classes. And I remember there was a time period growing up where, in my higher level reading classes, all the class would be white with like two Black children…And so I remember growing up and noticing those things…This has always been in the background. Soft racism.”

Growing up, Truong was also very aware of her surroundings and the ongoings of the world. She paid attention to China’s GDP growing at rates ~7.5%. GDP or Gross Domestic Product, it’s a measure used to evaluate the health of a country’s economy. It is the total value of the goods and services produced in a country for approximately one year. For years the GDP of China and the GDP of the United States was neck and neck. Because the two countries were – and still are – considered world leaders, this pitted the two countries against one another. Knowing this made Haiyen very aware of the common rhetoric that pitted the west against the east. And she wondered further as to why the two were always viewed as competitors. To understand better, Truong spent many hours learning about China’s culture, history, language, and global involvement.


After graduating high school, Truong went to Yale University. She recalled one of her most influential classes: Crime and Punishment. In this class, she learned more about governmental theory and common law. Even though, for most of her life, she had studied and focused on Chinese history and politics, she began to want to learn more about her own culture in the United States. More specifically, she wanted to learn about the inequalities that are ingrained in our country’s laws and policies. She started to question the criminal justice system through the lens of reincarcerated people.

“What is the purpose of the criminal justice system here in the U.S.? Are we trying to keep them away? Are we trying to incarcerate them? Are we trying to punish them? Are we trying to rehabilitate them? Which really should be the purpose…”

After college, Truong went to work for Teach for America. There, she learned about the inequities many students face.

“So much had been put into my education and I needed to give back to that system… So, I became a learning specialist in the Bay Area. I also taught diverse learners. It was a challenge because our society doesn’t value different people and different types of intelligence. The outcomes of all the people who are left out…{It} allowed me to process my ableism. Made me think of how the school structure is set up to accommodate me, and not those who need it… Being a teacher, you really get to see all the outcomes that really are affected by those who make decisions.”

From left to right, a student is sitting beside Ms. Truong. The student is staring at the gray laptop Ms. Truong is holding. He is wearing a Chicago Bulls College Prep black sweater. Ms. Truong, to his left, is staring at him. She is holding the laptop with her left hand/arm. She is wearing the same black Chicago Bulls College Prep sweater. She is also wearing a khaki pants.

ms. t

Ms. Truong assisting a student.


After years of living and teaching on the West Coast, Truong decided to move to Chicago. She taught at a CPS school for two years and then accepted a position at Chicago Bulls College Prep teaching AP U.S. History. Within her first years of teaching at Bulls Prep, COVID-19 hit. Schools across the world closed and everyone was forced online. It was within that online year of learning that Truong started the debate team.

“I actually founded the debate team at Bulls over Zoom. I was really nervous. Just staring at black boxes on the screen. It was as if I was talking to myself. So I started – through Zoom – telling students about policy debates and asking them to reply in the chat. And I remember asking ‘Ok, so, let’s debate. Who wants to try it out?’ and it was completely silent. And all of sudden you hear ‘I’ll give it a shot!’”

After that first Zoom call, a spark was ignited within the student body to debate. That very first year, they did their Noble Cup Championship debate about the criminal justice system. Students debated in online breakout rooms. The first case was about bail bonds and the second case was about defunding police.

“Students had so much to say on the topic. It was a very controversial topic. It still is…the questions about what’s the difference between defunding the police and reallocating funds.”

After the year online, students returned to school. The first in-person debate league topic was water rights. Truong was concerned about the topic. How would she get students to be interested in water? Right away, though, students on the team took to the challenge and started formulating ways to get more students to join debate.

“I think one of the fun things about founding debate is that it amplifies students’ voices. With a microphone.”

The students at Chicago Bulls College Prep take responsibility for the success and growth of the debate team, thanks to the leadership of Truong. She pushes students to apply their personal life and experiences to debate topics. Truong provides them with the information and basic structures of debate and allows students to research, formulate thoughts and rebuttals, and prepare for debate at their comfortability level and at their own pace.

“Ms. Truong is a great colleague and an even better teacher. She pushes students to do their best; to think critically for themselves and voice their thoughts. I’m happy we have her on the team,” said a staff member at Bulls.

The Chicago Bulls College Prep debate team posing together. Some students are wearing mask, some are not. Some students are wearing black Chicago Bulls College Prep sweaters.

debate team bulls

Chicago Bulls College Prep Debate team all together.

With Truong’s guidance, the student debate team at Bulls has won copious awards in the past two years. Next year’s topic is quantum computing. Even though it is a topic very few are familiar with, it is without a doubt a topic the debate team will be ready for when it comes time to speak.

“I can’t wait for debate club next year. I think I want to join,” said a sophomore student at Bulls, “I saw the pictures of the members with their awards and I heard what they do in there. And everybody like(s) Ms. Truong, so I can’t wait to be on the team and see what I can learn from her and everybody else — especially because I want to be a lawyer. It’ll help a lot.”

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