WASHINGTON — For the 20 Democratic candidates who tussled onstage in Detroit last week for their party’s nomination, the debates were a chance to goose poll numbers, undercut rivals and wring donations from potential voters.

For the nearly 200 students who attended a summer debate program last week run by the Washington Urban Debate League, the contests were something else: a lesson plan.

The program, a two-week boot camp for middle and high schoolers held at the Washington Latin Public Charter School, enrolls mostly minority students from underserved backgrounds. The presidential debates offered a teachable moment, said David Trigaux, the league’s program director.

“We always try to find ways to connect to what’s going on in the public discussion,” he said. “The timing of the debates couldn’t be better to provide examples of some things to do and some things not to do.”