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Amador tops in state's 'We the People' competition

Team now faces intense preparation for national contest May

Amador Valley High School's Competition Civics team won the California state "We the People" championship Friday, the third year in a row the Pleasanton school has topped all other high school competitors.

The team is now gearing up for the national competition, scheduled for May 3-5 in Washington, D.C. The top high school "We the People" teams from all 50 states and the District of Columbia are expected to take part in the three-day contest.

The annual "We the People: The citizen and the Constitution" is considered one of the country's most prestigious academic competitions for high schools. It focuses on the nation's Constitution with panels of judges fielding questions and listening to presentations from students on how current issues relate to the 219-year-old document.

With its state victory, Amador will again go to the nation's capital, where Amador has become one of the better known high schools on Capitol Hill. Amador finished second in the national contest in the last two consecutive years and competed in the finals in 1992, 1994, 1996, 2000 and 2004, 2006 and 2007. It won the national title in 1995.

"I am very proud of the students, said Brian Ladd, the school's social studies teacher and a 17-year veteran on the teaching staff.. "There was an incredible amount of pressure on the students to keep the strong tradition of Amador Valley alive. The students handled the pressure wonderfully. The most important aspect was that they thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the competition and were a very united team."

"The Amador students on the team are a cross-section of students including band and drama students, AP students, non-AP students, varsity athletes, students in special education, and more," Ladd added. "They have come together as a team and it was evident that their camaraderie and dedication not only to the program, but to each other, helped them to win the state championship."

Three Southern California high schools finished behind Amador in the state finals in Sacramento Friday.

Coming in second was Centennial High from Bakersfield.

Arcadia High School finished third. Located in Arcadia, a city with a population of 50,000 in the San Gabriel Valley 16 miles east of Los Angeles, Arcadia High is considered one of the top high schools in that part of the state.

Winning the fourth place award was Arvin High, one of the high schools in the Kern (County) High School District, California's largest high school district with more than 35,000 students. Arvin High was unique among the "We the People" competitors because of its student body demographics, which is 94 percent Hispanic.

More than 350 students from 12 top high school classes competed in simulated congressional hearings to earn the opportunity to represent California at the national finals. At the local, district and regional competitions, as well as in competition Thursday and again yesterday, government, business, education and community leaders served as volunteer judges, timers and facilitators.

In Sacramento, the panel of legislators, judges and others that chose Amador to represent California in the 2008 national competition also included teachers from across the U.S, lobbyists, "We the People" alumni from 11 different schools, political science professors, a former Oregon state supreme court justice and others.

Keynote speakers included Assembly member Gene Mullin, Charles Quigley, Shay Humphrey and Benjamin Glickman, a "We the People" alumnus, former Ninth District Circuit Court clerk and now an attorney.

Losing out among the 12 high school civics teams that won local and district contests to reach the state finals were Foothill High School and Irvington High in Fremont. Foothill has been a consistent victor in "We the People" competitions, along with Irvington.

Foothill's team was coached by Cindy Juarez, the school's Advanced Placement (AP) Civics and Economics teacher. Cheryl Cook-Kallio, a Pleasanton resident and a member of the Pleasanton City Council, teaches AP Government at Irvington High and coached its "We the People" team.

Ladd praised the teachers who helped coach his team and critique its practice presentations, as well as community volunteers who helped. He said the same group has offered to help prepare the "We the People" team for Washington, along with Cook-Kallio and other California high school teachers whose teams didn't win but want California to get the trophy.

"The 'We the People' program is considered to be the most demanding and difficult academic competitions in the nation," Ladd said. "In Sacramento, the students faced 54 judges over three rounds in two days. The competition after the first two rounds was extremely close amongst the top six teams, but unfortunately only four could go on to the finals.

"Fifty percent of the scores from the first day carried over to the final round, with the final round counting for 50 percent of the score," he explained.

"The fact is that any of those six teams that had high scores could be in the top 12-15 in the nation," he added.

"The students from Amador worked incredibly hard this year," Ladd said. "They spent two to three hours a day preparing since November, including most Saturdays, they gave up their vacation time at Thanksgiving, a week of the winter break and every vacation day."

Seniors on the Amador team who will be competing in Washington, D.C. are Vincent Buscarello, Joel Detweiler, Katie Gellerman, Stoney Glover, William Grau, Margaret Haupt, Kristyn Hayashi, Genevieve Hoffman, Pooja Jaeel, Udani Kadurugamuwa, Teresa Machado, Erica Miranda, Sarah Moellering, Lanz Nalagan, Joshua Pann, Shannon Parker, Jeysree Ramachandran, Devi Santhosh, Kevin Sasek, Alexander Schlick, Ryan Seams, Amaan Shaikh, Siddarth Somanathan, Yichuan Sun. Kristpher Tayyeb, Corinne Tu, Alan Wang, Terri Wang, Tony Wang and Curtis Wong.

Besides returning to their second semester class as they close their senior year, the winning Amador team members will resume their extra practice sessions and will also join Ladd and the school in raising the nearly $40,000 needed by April 1 to be able to attend the competition.

"The Pleasanton community has been very generous the past two years in helping us to raise the necessary funds to attend the competition," Ladd said today.

Anyone who wishes to make a contribution may do so by contacting Brian Ladd at bladd@pleasanton.k12.ca.us or sending a check to the AVHS Competition Civics Team, Amador Valley High School, 1155 Santa Rita Road, Pleasanton, CA 94566.

"We the People" is a competitive civics experience sponsored by the Center for Civic Education, a division of the U.S. Department of Education. Students' knowledge of the Constitution, the founding of the country and the evolution of American government is tested in simulated congressional hearings that foster critical thinking and creativity.

- Jeb Bing

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