Constitutional champions: EHS students win top honors at ‘We the People’ competition 

  • Easthampton High School students won the We the People competition on Saturday, Jan. 26 at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate and the Commonwealth Museum in Boston.  SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/29/2019 4:01:47 PM

EASTHAMPTON – Students from Easthampton High School and Williston Northampton School placed first and third, respectively, at last weekend’s “We the People: The Citizen and The Constitution” competition, which tests students on their U.S. civics and constitutional knowledge. 

Competing against seven other schools in the state finals on Saturday, EHS won for the second year in a row at the National Conference Center in Boston and earned a spot in the 32nd We the People National Finals in Washington, D.C. from April 26-29. The program is organized by the non-profit Massachusetts Center for Civic Education (MACCE). 

“This program is so important because it not only empowers and gives students a voice, it grounds them in a firm understanding of the Constitution, their government, and allows them to approach thinking about the future from a knowledgeable place,” Easthampton High School history and government teacher Kelley Brown said on Tuesday.

Brown’s class had been preparing for the competition since September. She said her 18 participating students were “poised and performed superbly” this past Saturday. 

The competition was described as having a “constitutional hearing” format by Brown, where students are divided into six groups of three and each group presented twice during the day.

After delivering four-minute statements that answered questions such as, “Is hate speech protected by the First Amendment?” or, “How does the Constitution limit government power to protect individual rights while promoting the common good?” students were then questioned by judges on their understanding of constitutional principles or contemporary issues. 

At Williston, students of the Advanced Placement U.S. government and politics course have participated in the We the People competition since 1998. This year, 31 students from Williston competed. 

School officials at Williston say that students have to defend their ideas in response to judges’ questions and it helps them hone their public speaking, critical thinking and debating skills. 

“Now, especially, engaging students in discussing the structure, development, and process of our government is so important,” Williston’s Head of School Robert W. Hill III said. “We feel that students who have a full understanding of how government works are more likely to keep up with the news, to vote, to contact their elected officials, and to participate in the democratic process.”

Williston’s Nina Renkert, a junior, won the Claudette Desrosiers prize for her participation in the program. 

EHS students are now setting their sights on the national competition in April. 

On Thursday, the questions will be released for the competition and students will work on preparing their statements by delving into writings of political scientists, historians, and relevant statistical data, Brown said. 

EHS will need to fundraise $30,000 for their trip to the nation’s capital and a GoFundMe page has been set up online. On March 1, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., a spaghetti supper and silent auction will be held at Easthampton High School with proceeds going towards the trip’s expenses. 

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com




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