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Easthampton High School We the People team headed to state competition

EASTHAMPTON

Before a practice session last week for the Jan. 26 statewide “We the People” civics competition in Boston, members of the Easthampton High School team lined up in the hallway outside their history classroom.

Their teacher, Kelley Brown, asked each of them to read aloud a message recently painted on the wall for a schoolwide art project: “Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”

“If any one of us walks in there on Saturday with the fear of striking out, we all lose,” Brown told the students. “So you have to dig deep.”

“I could care less how we score,” she added. “As long as everyone does their best.”

This year’s EHS team has big shoes to fill — the high school’s own. Easthampton’s 10-member team won last year’s statewide contest, earning the right to represent Massachusetts at the national We the People tournament in Washington, D.C.

At 36 students, this year’s team is more than three times as big as last year’s. “There are strengths to having a bigger group and also challenges,” Brown said. “Overall, they’re working really hard.”

At their pre-contest practice on Jan. 23, students gathered in small groups to review questions the judges would be asking about the Constitution and the workings of the U.S. government. In addition to Brown, they had three volunteer coaches helping them: former Easthampton selectman Michael Engel, a professor emeritus at Westfield State University; School Committee Chairwoman Nancy Sykes; and Olivia Torres, a 2012 EHS graduate who was on last year’s We the People team.

“It’s incredible seeing this happen,” said Torres, who is now studying liberal arts at Holyoke Community College. “The kids are really working together well. It’s been really fun being able to help them.”

Tenth-grader LinseyBranscomb said she signed up for Brown’s AP history class — the source We the People team members — because she wanted to learn more about the U.S. government.

“Questions for our group are mostly about immigration and the values of the country,” she explained. “You have to do a lot of research. I’ve spent most of my nights doing this.”

In another study group, fellow sophmore Jacob LaPrade was reviewing questions on the Declaration of Independence.

“I’ve learned a lot about how our country developed,” he said. “I really like being on the team.”

Coda: The EHS team came in 6th out of 10 statewide teams on Jan 26. “We didn’t end up winning,” Brown said. “But the students were absolutely amazing! So specific, so impressive. They did better than I could have expected.”

Budget work ahead

School leaders are preparing budget proposals for next year, including strategies for closing an anticipated $532,353 gap. At a budget work session last week School Committee members reviewed a preliminary $17.23 million “level services” budget that keeps nonpayroll spending the same as last year.

That plan — which Superintendent Nancy Follansbee emphasized is based on early estimates of grant and state aid money — anticipates a total of $16.70 million in funding for the schools, including $1.7 million in grants and school choice money and $15 million from the city. That leaves a gap of $532,353.

Follansbee said administrators have been asked to cut school budgets by 3 percent as a starting point. Suggested cuts and more up-to-date funding figures will be discussed at a budget work session scheduled for Feb. 12 at 6 p.m. at 50 Payson Avenue.

Showtime

Tickets are now on sale for the Easthampton High School Drama Club production of the award-winning musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Opening night for the show, which features music by Frank Loesser, is Feb. 7 at 6 p.m. at White Brook Middle School. Performances by a cast of both middle and high school students will be held Feb. 8 and 9 at 7 p.m. and Feb. 10 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for students. They can be purchased at the main office at EHS or reserved by calling 433-6234.

ELF fundraiser

The Easthampton Learning Foundation, which raises funds for hands-on learning programs in local schools, is holding its 10th annual ball March 2 from 6 p.m. to midnight at the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House in Holyoke. The black-tie optional fundraiser will include entertainment by All-Star Dyn-O-Myte Disco Review, silent and live auctions, and dinner and a cash bar. Tickets are $50. Reservations can be made online at the ELF website: http://www.elfhelps.org/.

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