Four years ago Diane Burdett walked into Proviso East High School as a shy freshman in need of a confidence boost. Burdett, now an 18-year-old senior at the school, said she immediately sought out the speech team where she gained the poise needed to eventually take pleasure in public speaking.

“When I’m talking in front of a class, I actually enjoy it,” Burdett said.

Burdett, a Forest Park resident, is one of 10 students on the speech team at Proviso East. For the last 11 years English teacher Phyllis Warr has coached the students to success at regional speaking competitions, and perhaps more importantly, helped the kids acquire an invaluable tool that many adults are reluctant to embrace.

“Public speaking is the most frightening thing in the world for most people,” Warr said. “It’s difficult to convince kids to try it.”

Since at least 1960, students at Proviso East have signed up for the extra curricular event. Participation ranges annually, Warr said, from as few as four students to as many as 30.

Fellow senior Amy Hudson joined the speech team as a freshman as well, and at a Dec. 2 competition in Morris, Ill., Hudson grabbed her second first-place title for dramatic duet acting this year. Hudson, also a Forest Park resident, said she was drawn to the team as a way to bolster her transcripts for college. She recently received a partial scholarship and plans to major in business administration with a minor in communications.

Aside from achieving her main goal, Hudson said the team is a lot of fun and has helped her meet new friends. As a tandem, Hudson and Burdett read the morning announcements over the school’s public address system.

“I don’t think we’d have been able to do that two years ago,” Hudson, 17, said.

During their time on the speech team, Hudson and Burdett will have competed in seven competitions during each of their four years in high school. Students are judged on their articulation, eye contact, dramatic interpretation and other facets of their presentation. The two Forest Park seniors, Warr said, have picked up leadership skills and self confidence that extends beyond their high school activities.

“I’ve seen these two young ladies blossom over the years,” Warr said. “They were very shy freshman.”