Civics stars: Easthampton High team three-peats in state We the People competition

View Photo Gallery
  • Easthampton senior Kerissa Bilski, center, a member of last year’s state champion We the People team, discusses helping this year’s team prepare for competitions. With her are current members junior Sadie Bromberg, left, and senior Emmalee Connly. STAFF PHOTOS/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Students of the 21-member We the People team at Easthampton High School talk on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, about winning the state competition in Boston and their upcoming trip to the national competition in Washington D.C. From left are senior Emmalee Connly and juniors Cylie Kirejczyk and Mackenzie Bates. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton High social studies teacher Kelley Brown and junior Miles Ellsworth, a member of the school’s state champion We the People team, discuss preparing for the national competition in Washington, D.C.

  • Easthampton juniors Mackenzie Bates, left, and Chelsea Indyk, part of the school’s 21-member We the People team, discuss the team’s success with different students each year. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton High School social studies teacher Kelley Brown talks on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, about the benefits that members of the school's We the People teams gain from preparing and taking part in the civic competitions. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton junior Gabe Colenback, a member of the high school's We the People team, talks on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, about Easthampton winning the state competition for the third year in a row - each year with all different students. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton High School Principal William Evans talks on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, about the school's winning We the People team and the support that the program gets from alumni and the school district. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton High School senior Kerissa Bilski, second from left, a member of last year's winning We the People team, talks with some of the 21 current members on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, about their win at the state competition in Boston this year. From left are junior Sadie Bromberg, Bilski, senior Emmalee Connly and juniors Cylie Kirejczyk, Mackenzie Bates, Chelsea Indyk and Miles Ellsworth. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton High School junior Miles Ellsworth, foreground right, and other members of the school's We the People team talk on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, about winning the state competition in Boston and their upcoming trip to the national competition in Washington D.C. From left are senior Emmalee Connly and juniors Cylie Kirejczyk, Mackenzie Bates and Chelsea Indyk. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 1/29/2020 11:43:33 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The New England Patriots, the Boston Bruins, the Boston Red Sox — these are just some of the championship dynasties that have emerged from Massachusetts. Meanwhile, at Easthampton High School, a different kind of competitive dynasty is emerging on the state level that’s in its prime and headed for Washington, D.C.

Easthampton High School beat five other schools Saturday in the We the People State Finals, which was held in Boston at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate. We the People is a nationwide civics competition that involves students giving opening statements in front of mock congressional committees on a variety of topics, and then answering questions from the committee.

“The reputation of this program goes into the middle school,” said Easthampton High School Principal William Evans. “People start putting this into their schedule early on, and they stay with the program long after they’ve left.”

This year’s state title is the school’s third victory in the competition in three years. Indeed, in the eight years Easthampton has competed, it has won four state finals. This year, Easthampton’s own Williston Northampton School was also the runner-up in the competition.

Not bad for what Easthampton High School junior and team member Chelsea Indyk described as “a little town in western Mass.”

The We the People team from Easthampton High will now be heading for the nation’s capital to compete in the 33rd annual national finals, which are going to be held in the National Conference Center this April. 

Easthampton’s feat is perhaps even more impressive because students may only participate in the competition once.

“Makes our three-peat even more exciting,” said Kelley Brown, the program’s academic adviser. “Every year is a new set of students.”

Past competitors, however, haven’t been sitting on the sidelines. Instead, a tradition has developed with competition alumni helping each year’s current team. This also includes alumni who are in college, with one Easthampton High School alumna even Skyping in from Montana to help with the effort.

One of the alumna who helped out this year is senior Kerissa Bilski.

“It was the best experience of my life,” Bilski said. “Just getting to be part of a team like that.”

She also said that she and her team are “all still so close.”

Students in the competition are divided into six units. Each unit tackles a different category, such as “What Are the Philosophical and Historical Foundations of the American Political System?” or “What Rights Does the Bill of Rights Protect?” Students in each unit then have three questions that they prepare opening statements on, two of which they will give in the competition, although they only find out which two on the day of the contest. After each opening statement, they then answer questions on the topic from the committee they’re presenting to.

All Easthampton competitors must take Brown’s class “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution.” Both Brown and the class, which this year had 21 people in it, were praised by the students.

Cylie Kirejczyk, a junior on this year’s team, said that although she and her classmates sometimes want to “rip each others heads off,” because they are together all the time and have to work so closely together, “In the long run, it’s  made us so much closer.”

“I feel so much more comfortable here than I do anywhere else,” Kirejczyk said.

Fellow junior teammate Miles Ellsworth is also enthusiastic about the experience.

“Whether we win or lose, I’ve learned so much through this class,” Ellsworth said.

To go to the national competition, the students are looking to raise $30,000, and have set up a GoFundMe to raise the money.

Last year, Easthampton High School finished 19th out of 56 teams at the national competition, the highest finish for a Massachusetts team in the competition’s history. This year, the students are shooting for an even bigger goal: cracking the top 10.

“I think we have a good chance at nationals this year,” said Mackenzie Bates, a junior.

Bilski also has high hopes for this year’s team.

“They’re way better than us,” she said.




Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2020 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy