Amador's 'We the People' team heads to Washington | April 19, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Column - April 19, 2013

Amador's 'We the People' team heads to Washington

by Jeb Bing

If their presentations next weekend at the "We the People" national competition in Washington, D.C., is as good as at last Monday's final dress rehearsal, the 29 seniors on Amador Valley High School's advanced civics team should come home winners once again. Coached by social studies and civics teachers Brian Ladd and Mairi Wohlgemuth, this will be Amador's 12th time to compete in the national finals as the California high school champions and will serve as the culminating event of the program that has taken much of their time since the class started last August. Since New Year's, the team has spent at least 25 hours a week practicing and preparing, first for the state finals which it won in Bakersfield on Feb. 9, and since then readying for the finals April 27-29 against 52 other high schools from the U.S. and its territories. The group leaves Amador at 8 p.m. next Thursday for the finals.

Most satisfying has been the community's support, both in terms of raising the funds needed to send the team to Washington and in attending practice sessions to hear the presentations. Last Monday evening, more than 100 sat through the two-and-a-half hour dress rehearsal, applauding loudly as each of the six teams wrapped up their remarks and responded to questions from judges who critiqued their performance. Ladd and Wohlgemuth work with the students not only on the course material provided by the Center for Civic Education, which organizes all aspects of the program and prepares the constitution-related materials, but also on how the students perform. They're taught to be clear, articulate, deliberate and confident when discussing issues dealing with "We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution," as the program is called.

The national finals take the form of simulated congressional hearings. During the hearings, groups of students testify as constitutional experts before panels of judges acting as congressional committees, scoring the groups through a performance-based assessment. Topic leaders this year include "What challenges might American constitutional democracy face in the 21st century?" to "What rights does the Bill of Rights protect?" Each hearing begins with a four-minute opening statement by students and is followed by a six-minute period of follow-up questioning during which judges probe the students' depth of knowledge, understanding and their ability to apply constitutional principles. The format provides students an excellent opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of constitutional principles while providing the 72 judges who will meet with them at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and in congressional meeting rooms on Capitol Hill with an excellent means of assessing students' knowledge and application to historical and current constitutional issues.

Ladd said that while in Washington, the Amador students will have a chance to explore the nation's capital, learn about government beyond the classroom walls, and meet with elected officials and other dignitaries. Congressman Eric Swalwell will meet with the group next Friday morning and provide a tour of the Capitol. The students will meet with congressional leaders from California on Monday.

The competition will have four different rounds of school teams Saturday and Sunday, with Amador facing judges at 2 p.m. Saturday and then at 8 a.m. Sunday. The 10 finalists among the We the People teams will be announced late Sunday and those 10 teams will vie for top honors Monday on Capitol Hill. The national winner will be announced at a reception late on Monday.

For Ladd, this will be his last trip as Amador's "We the People" coach. A teacher since 1989 and in the Social Studies Department at Amador since 1990, he's been involved with the program since 1992. Wohlgemuth has shared the coaching responsibilities since 1994, and she also plans to step down. Both say it's time to move back to their regular teaching positions "to keep their personal lives in check" after hundreds of extra hours conducting the school's winning "We the People" program.

Finishing first next week in Washington would cap their good work on behalf of students in the "We the People" program.


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