Easthampton High School civics class shines again in national competition

  • Easthampton’s We the People team placed 11th in the U.S. as part of the 35th annual We the People: The Citizen and Constitution National Finals, held April 22-25. Pictured here is the group at the finals in Washington, D.C. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Easthampton’s We the People team placed 11th in the U.S. as part of the 35th annual We the People: The Citizen and Constitution National Finals, held April 22-25. Pictured here is the group at the finals in Washington, D.C. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Easthampton’s We the People team placed 11th in the United States as part of the 35th annual We the People: The Citizen and Constitution National Finals, held April 22-25. Pictured here is the group at the finals in Washington, D.C. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer 
Published: 5/6/2022 9:47:26 AM

EASTHAMPTON — After dedicating countless hours fine-tuning their civic understanding and constitutional knowledge, Easthampton’s We the People class headed to the nation’s capital and earned an 11th place spot in the country in the 35th annual We the People: The Citizen and Constitution National Finals. 

Approximately 1,000 students from 47 classes participated in 636 half-hour virtual hearings during the national finals, held April 22-25. 

“I honestly didn’t expect to do as well as we did,” said 16-year-old Ethan Marowitz. “There were students from some schools (in the competition) that required their students to sign contracts that they wouldn’t play sports or hold jobs … most of us play sports and couldn’t commit that same kind of time. We’re also a much smaller school than most of the others, so when we placed in the top 12 in the country, it was pretty surprising.” 

Although the group of 16 students were from one of the smallest schools entered in the competition, history and government teacher Kelley Brown, who leads the course, said this class was definitely one of the most knowledgeable. 

“This was easily the strongest team I’ve ever brought to D.C.,” Brown said. 

The academic competition tested her students on their understanding of the U.S. Constitution and legal principles and is run by the state Center for Civic Education.

The Easthampton team dominated at the state finals in March, taking home another first-place win. The win was the high school’s fifth in a row at the state finals, but sixth overall. 

In 2020, the school took home their first national win, which was held via videoconference. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown said a number of schools opted not to participate. 

Although this year’s team still participated virtually, Brown said it was important for the class to have a chance to experience many of the historic sites in Washington, D.C. while they competed at the national level. 

At the competition, students testified as constitutional scholars before panels of judges acting as congressional committees and were tested on their knowledge, understanding, and ability to apply constitutional principles. The competition centers around a series of complex questions ranging from philosophical origins to modern application.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the class for 16-year-old Maria Belfakih was seeing how much she’s improved since her first day in class. In reviewing a taped recording, Belfakih said she found herself trailing off mid-sentence, but now, is filled with a passion that didn’t exist prior to the class. Belfakih has pondered the possibility of pursuing a future in criminal justice. 

“Honestly, I dreaded my eighth-grade civics class ... I only joined this for public speaking,” said Belfakih. “But now I find myself talking about current events and presidents in my free time.”

Similarly, 17-year-old Abby Dean said she’s found herself talking about the Bill of Rights during down time. Dean said she engaged in a discussion of Roe v. Wade with her mother, where she drew upon much of the understanding she’d gained in the class. 

Brown said she takes the teaching of this course seriously as she sees the impact it has had on her students and recognizes that many of the young people in her class will be better prepared and enlightened citizens. 

"It’s hard to stop talking about it (now),” said 17-year-old Jack Belcher-Timme, adding how much of an investment the class has been for his future. “While we take tests in all of our classes, this (class) provided understanding that we’ll always use.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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