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'We the People' teams head to state finals tomorrow

Original post made on Feb 5, 2008

Three Pleasanton teachers will again lead their government and civics classes to Sacramento tomorrow for two days of intense testifying on constitutional issues before legislators, judges and others in the state's annual "We the People" competition.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, February 5, 2008, 6:31 PM

Comments (21)

Posted by Steve
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2008 at 10:23 pm

Good luck to both teams!

Posted by Rita
a resident of another community
on Feb 6, 2008 at 7:15 pm

Anyone familiar with this so called competition knows that many of the judges are AVHS alumni so it is no surprise that AVHS always does so well. This so called wonderful experience has been heart breaking for many other more qualified teams across the state due to the connections that exist at the California state level for the Amador teams. Good luck to both PUSD teams but don't be surprised if AVHS pulls off another win with their well connected powers.

Posted by jane
a resident of Amador Estates
on Feb 6, 2008 at 11:24 pm

Have you watched all the teams? Have you gone to the competition? Are you speaking from fact, or are you just speaking from hearsay? Have you gone to see Amador or Foothill or Irvington at competitions. Please don't belittle the hard work and efforts the students or our community have put in to their classes. You are accusing people of cheating and that is unfair and unfounded. It sounds as if you are making excuses for other teams. SHAME ON YOU!

Posted by Even Keel
a resident of another community
on Feb 6, 2008 at 11:44 pm

Can't we all just get along? Success is nothing more than preparation meeting oppportunity. Let us cast jealousy and pride aside and wish these young people the good fortune to meet their opportunity.

Posted by Rita
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2008 at 5:24 am

In answer to the questions posed by Jane above, yes to all 4 of your questions. Also, I did not in my statement belittle the endless studying and research put in by the students in this academic program. Don't be so naive as to believe that there is not an unfair advantage in this arena, it has been an embaraasing issue for several years at the state level. Perhaps this year the judges used will represent a larger cross section of the state and teams will be scored fairly. Good luck to all 12 teams!

Posted by a FHS alum
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2008 at 6:04 am

As a member of last year's Foothill team I embarrassed by the comments from Rita above. I was heartbroken that we didnt make the final four last year and we felt robbed. I swallowed my pride and went watch the final four teams at the state capitol. I was very impressed by Amador's team, and they were clearly the best team in the competition. I still believe we should have been in the final four but we were not one of the two top teams. I was rooting for them at the awards ceremony and was happy they won, although our teacher took us home early and we could not see the winners announced. I also attended the practice Amador held for the public before they left for nationals, and they were incredible.We were judged by 18 judges in the morning and 18 new judges in the afternoon on the day. My participation in the program was the highlight of my high school years and in life we must realize that we cant make up excuses for the successes of others. If I was not attending college so far away, I would be in Sacramento supporting my school. Go Falcons

Posted by Cheryl Cook-Kallio
a resident of Jensen Tract
on Feb 7, 2008 at 4:44 pm

I am disturbed about the tenor of some of the posts above. Last year I had a parent respectfully ask how the kids could have done so well and
not make finals. I have enclosed my response. The competition is fun. It is fun to win but that is not why we, as teachers, do this. It is because we all end up with participatory citizens. The negative comments above diminish the effort of the students and the teachers who work so hard!

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Parent,

Thank you so much for your gracious and kind words. It is difficult for me to put into words what your children mean to me and I am grateful that it is apparent to you all.

It is difficult to see the "Big Picture" because like teaching, it is very isolating. One knows one is good not by seeing other teachers teach but because others observe and give us their opinion. I have worked with the Center. The people in charge are personal friends of mine. I know how hard they work to make sure this is all done fairly.

Over the course of the last decade, The California State Finals has become the MOST competitive state program and often more demanding than the National Finals.

Each Judge had a rubric and the students are judged in six areas. These scores are added together. In addition, each judge individually writes down a tie breaking number. Rarely is this used. To have a tie, the points must be exact among 36 judges over 12 rounds with six units. It is incredible that a tie could even happen. In this case it did between Irvington and Arvin. In that case the tie breaker was used. So 36 judges had independently written down the tie breaker and the difference (as I understand now) was a few points. They had 4 sets of people count and recount, which was why they were late with the announcement.

There is a subjective nature to judging as there is with grading. I was approached by a number of judges, board members, and teachers to say how wonderful IHS students are and they are correct. Of course I will know more when I get the actual scores. I believe the students were judged on their merits. I think we can be proud that in California, with our diverse demographics, that we have that many young people who know so much about what makes this country great. It would be very isolating for me to think I was the only one who had this kind of impact on students.

I know exactly how you feel. My son was on the 99 team with Susan Piekarski. They came in third. My daughter was on the 02 team and they were knocked out of competition at the district level the year after her school had won the Nationals. Her team was told they were better than the team the year before and they were right, which speaks to how well this program works. Each year the students get better and better at this and I suppose we teachers get better at teaching.

I am so proud of this kids. You all have done a wonderful job raising them. Strength of character is very difficult to teach. One can't teach someone to be good and kind, that comes from within and the good modeling with which they were raised. Of course, it is my job to encourage these characteristics.

Thank you for your thoughtful letter. I love what I do. I love these kids.

Cheryl Cook-Kallio

Posted by Jerry
a resident of Oak Hill
on Feb 7, 2008 at 11:54 pm

Thank you Cheryl for giving your time and efforts to your bright young students. It's refreshing to read articles about young people that work so hard to accomplish a goal. In my opinion, some may fare better that others but there are no losers.

You have every reason to be proud since you, and other dedicated teachers like you, are providing our possible future leaders with their first taste of the knowledge that will qualify them to lead in an ever changing world.

Goodluck to ALL the teams!!!!

Posted by WTP Fan
a resident of another community
on Feb 8, 2008 at 9:24 pm

I've been an active participant in the WTP program for years and have had the opportunity to judge at several competitions. The notion that any school has an advantage due to alumni connections is simply preposterous. The judges who volunteer their time -- perhaps especially the alumni judges -- do so because of how wonderful the program. They don't do so to advance some agenda. All they want is for the kids to do well and enjoy their experience. All of the kids. Win or lose, the program can be a life-changing experience. At the end of the day, a good team (and there are many good teams in CA) coming up a little bit short is not the end of the world. The kids can take pride in all they've learned and accomplished, knowing that in most other states they likely would have won. The real tragedy occurs when their teacher puts it in their heads that they were somehow robbed and takes them home before the awards are given. It's about the kids. Not the teachers. Not the judges. Let's not forget that.

Posted by Curtis
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Feb 8, 2008 at 10:01 pm

Well I've got to say that Rita's comments are pretty naive and incorrect. Having participated in the We the People State competition for the past two days, only a minority of the judges were alumni of the we the people program, and of those, only about one or two were from Amador. They didn't even talk to us until after the competition. The majority of the judges were lawyers, lobbyists, and teachers predominantly from Sacramento but also coming from all over the west coast. One judge was an AP US history teacher from Anchorage Alaska and another was a former Oregon Supreme Court Justice who cost Amador the national title in 2007. In addition, you need to look at this logically. There is no way that 54 different judges from across the west coast can favor one particular school. Throughout the competition, everything was very close and the competition was very very fair. To accuse the entire we the people program of being corrupt and biased is COMPLETELY disrespectful to the hundreds of individuals who have committed tens of thousands of hours towards improving the civic education of California's students via the We the People Program. The reason why Amador's team won was because of all the hard work we put in. Each of us spends about 35-40 hours each week on the We the People Program. It is an incredible honor for us to represent California but it is an honor we have earned cleanly and fairly. Regardless if you believe that the competition is corrupt, at least demonstrate some form of sportsmanship to respect all the students across the state in the we the people program who have donated their senior years towards learning about the constitution.

Posted by Shannon
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Feb 9, 2008 at 9:45 am

First of all, thank you very much to all of the individuals who wrote in response to some of the rude, immature comments posted above. Thank you especially to Mrs. Cook-Kalio. We have heard that you are an incredible coach, and now we know that you also have incredible sportsmanship.

If there is one thing that a reader of this article absolutely must know, it is this - despite the divisive efforts of 'a member of another community' above, the youth of this community have acted together in another incredible show of sportsmanship. When Amador was announced in the Final Four two nights ago, students from Foothill and also from Irvington, who were not in the Final Four, volunteered to help us prepare for finals. They performed mock Q and A with us, as well as debriefing us on any information they had which they believed we lacked after reading our prepared responses. Their help was very valuable, and we cannot thank the students enough for putting aside childish disrespect when their teacher could not, and for aiding us in our victory.

In my experience of the program thus far, I know that it is not just about a title, a medal, or a trophy. It is not even about the incredible bonds you gain, nor about the vast wealth of knowledge bound to remain with you throughout adulthood. Beneath all of this, the program is about character. The students of Foothill and Irvington have demonstrated immense strength, to put aside their own defeat in favor of uniting within their community. So allow me a moment to be corny in saying that while Amador took home the gold medal last night, the youth of Foothill and Irvington are also undefeated.

We are honored to represent individuals like these who comprise the state of California.

Posted by Proud
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Feb 9, 2008 at 10:45 am

Having just seen this competition for the first time, it is easily the most demanding and rewarding competition any student could have the priviledge of being involved in. As Shannon eloquently stated it encompasses everything GOOD about students, teachers and competition! We live in an "infotainment" society where 90% or more of everything we see, hear and read seems to have a negative perspective. The overwhelming message I got from this competition is that these students futures are in very good hands!!! Their own!!!

Congratulations to all of the participants, Mr. Brian Ladd, and to the unbelievable wealth of talent that steps up to volunteer help because they CARE about our kids and believe that what they contribute can and will help to make a real difference in the world!

I personally couldn't be more proud!

Posted by Huh?
a resident of another community
on Feb 9, 2008 at 2:27 pm

Rita is asked above: "Have you watched all the teams? Have you gone to the competition? Are you speaking from fact, or are you just speaking from hearsay? Have you gone to see Amador or Foothill or Irvington at competitions".?

She responds: "In answer to the questions posed by Jane above, yes to all 4 of your questions. Also, I did not in my statement belittle the endless studying and research put in by the students in this academic program. Don't be so naive as to believe that there is not an unfair advantage in this arena, it has been an embaraasing issue for several years at the state level. Perhaps this year the judges used will represent a larger cross section of the state and teams will be scored fairly."

Dear Rita,

You miss one enourmous point in your attack on Amador in implying that Amador has an advantage through Alumni judging to the point that "it has been an embarassing issue at the state level for several years".

Amador Valley has place 2nd IN THE NATION 2 years in a row. Do you believe that alumni enable that accomplishment as well? 2nd in the Nation 2 years in row should help you to understand that they are not only well qualified but deserve to represent the State of California! Your comments are pretty clearly based on "sour grapes".

The students who have earned this honor deserve an apology, don't you think?

Congratulations Amador Valley, and good luck at Nationals!!!!

Posted by Amy
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Feb 9, 2008 at 6:02 pm

No one who has actually seen these kids compete can believe they are not all winners. Thank you to the generous kids of the Foothill and Irvington teams for helping the Amador students. They showed true strength and grace! It is sad the Foothill students had to leave before the luncheon.

I had intended to write a response to Rita's mean spirited comments, but I believe I cannot improve upon Shannon's comments. All of Pleasanton should be proud of both Foothill and Amador's teams, and unite now to support the students and teachers at Amador as they do the incredibly hard work to prepare for Nationals. They will represent Pleasanton, and California, well. Thank you, Brian Ladd and thank you, kids. We are all truly proud of you!! You are indeed the bright and wonderful future leaders of the United States!

Posted by John
a resident of Foothill Knolls
on Feb 9, 2008 at 9:09 pm

I agree that Rita owes the students an apology, but I know for a fact that those in the community who think that Amador has an unfair advantage due to judging are told so by the civics teacher at Foothill.

Lets applaud all our youth for their hard work and dedication, and those who help them to be outstanding citizens!

Posted by What a shame
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Feb 10, 2008 at 9:44 am

I can't express my disappointment enough to hear that the Foothill High civics teacher would be so selfish as to ruin her students' experiences in this wonderful program by (1) telling them that Amador has an unfair advantage due to its "connections" and (2) taking them home from the competition before they can receive their well-deserved recognition at the awards ceremony. The simple fact is the California competition is extremely competitive. Any suggestion that the 2 or 3 AVHS alumni judges could impact the results is simply absurd. Even more absurd is the notion that they would even if they could. These alumni devoted thousands of hours to study when they were in the class and thought enough of the experience that they are now donating their time back to a program that gave them so much. Any suggestion that they would then try to cheat students from other schools from a similar experience grossly misunderstands and underestimates the profound positive impact this program has on its participants. It's time for the adults to grow up and celebrate the tremendous achievements of these kids -- from Amador, from Foothill, from Irvington, and beyond.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2008 at 1:00 pm

My child participated in the competition last week.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2008 at 1:17 pm

My child participated in the competition last week and goes to FHS. I had heard from parents of previous participants (both AVHS and FHS) that connections truly do matter in the state competition. I had always assumed that this was simply sour grapes. After witnessing it for myself last week I now have a different view.

This has nothing to do with the AVHS team, who are outstanding. However what people are generally umaware of, and what hasn't been discussed above, is that the head of We THe People for California is from Bakersfield. Two of the four finalists chosen last week were schools from Bakersfield. This includes one school, who has been a finalist I was told for the last 17 years running. The other school has had a WTP program for only two years, and from witnessing them personally had no business being in the final 12 not to mention the final 4.

When the WTP head introduced the various finalist schools last week he indicated how he is a big fan of this new school from Bakersfield. He also mentioned his affection and long relationship with Mr. Ladd and the AVHS program.

The scoring at WTP is far from transparernt. FHS and the other non-finalists were told that they could not see their scores, and they would not be available for 2-3 weeks. However in the Pleasanton weekly article on this web-site Mr. Ladd talks about how close the scores were between 6 of the 12 schools. If the scores aren't avilable how does he know.

Connections do appear to matter.

WTP has been a great experience for my child, and the others in his class. It is unfortunate that they end the experience with a bad taste. As an aside, it was the class' decision not to attend the final ceremonies and not the teachers. After witnessing the finals themselves, and all students coming to the conclusion that they were better than the two Bakersfield teams in the finals they were disgusted.

Posted by Huh?
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Feb 11, 2008 at 2:09 pm

So now its not Amador who has judges that aren't impartial its the Bakersfield schools?

Mr. Ladd's "quote" was taken from a direct quote at the awards luncheon from the presenter which you say you didn't attend? If you were there you would know that the quote was exactly as stated in your post. The paper quote was Mr. Ladd repeating exactly what everyone in the audience was told. No one was told of any detail beyond the generic quote. Simply that 6 of the 12 were "very close". Saying that he had/has information that no one else is simply false.

I also take issue with your last point regarding Foothill Students saying they were "better than the 2 Bakersfield schools". You would have had to have kids in 4 different hearing rooms for all 6 sessions at the finals to even begin to be objecive. I would also add that high school students can sometimes be less than objective especially after having not made the finals the night before.

I understand the frustation of not moving on for anyone who didn't make it to the finals or win. But please, there are kids reading here who all worked _extremely_ hard to get where they are. Making statement that "connections do seem to matter" is not only not fair to anyone, it simply isn't true.

Winning something once is tough enough. Having a program that is consistently good is not by any measure automatic or lucky. As an Amador Parent with a student on the team for the first time, it is the students (with Brian Ladd's awesome leadership), along with the help of volunteers that have been associated with preperation for years that make the team what it is. If anything this team had to overcome the reputation that Amador has built in this program with the judges. Ask any champion in a sport and they'll tell you that everyone brings thier A game knowing they are up against the defending champion. This team worked very hard to be prepared knowing that pressure would be there. Any other comments are simply an attempt to discount hard work.

Posted by Cheryl Cook-Kallio
a resident of Jensen Tract
on Feb 11, 2008 at 2:15 pm

I have been involved with the Center for Civic Education for years and on a number of different levels. I am again going to reiterate what I said in the letter above. There is integrity in the competition and the scoring. We don't know the scores now but will in a week. However, The program organizer, Amy, shared with any of us who wanted to know the break down for Thursday. There was 13 points separating first place from sixth, 13 points out of 2400. That is very close. It is based on a rubric. Many of the things that are valued by the audience in the presentation are not on the rubric. The judges want to know if the student has answered the question and with depth. The top six teams all did that on Thursday. 36 judges over 12 rounds would have had to conspire. What you saw on Friday was after an entire day of competition on Thursday and fatigue sets in. It is easy to answer the questions from the audience. The students are judged on the totality of the presentation of all six units. The judges are experienced and very familiar with the questions.

This is the most competitive competition in the country. We should be proud of the quality of our students in this state. In response to the comment that the state coordinator somehow had some influence in the outcome misunderstands the relationship many of the coaches and teachers have with each other. David Richmond was a coach for many years. His old school had been aced out of finals a number of times. He travels the state and offers his time to any school who takes him up on it. If you knew the work that went into this statewide I think you might have a different view. Many of us do this because it is our passion. We are good friends and we travel in the same academic circles. We often communicate during the competition season as we do with many of our colleagues across the country.

This is far too much work if it is only for the competition. We hope that we are encouraging participatory citizens. We missed seeing the Foothill kids at the luncheon. They missed the chance to publicly thank Ms. Juarez for her dedication and the teacher/coaches missed the chance to say thanks to her for the years she has spent in the program.

Posted by Sad
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2008 at 4:41 pm

This is absurd. There is no conspiracy. 54 judges simply were not in cahoots to cheat Foothill (or any other school) out of anything. As a judge at this week's competition, the simple fact is -- as Ms. Cook-Kallio pointed out -- there were six teams that performed tremendously on Thursday and any of the six "deserved" to advance to the final round. But, alas, only four could. And, again, any notion that the so-called Bakersfield schools didn't belong in the finals is ridiculous. Assuming for the sake of argument that one -- or both -- of the schools had an off-day on Friday, this says nothing about their performance on Thursday that qualified them for the Final round. Did you view all 12 units for both schools on Thursday too?

Foothill and Irvington were both excellent in the unit I judged on Thursday and I would not have been surprised if either team had advanced. But any notion that the judges or event organizers somehow conspired against them is insulting -- insulting the students, their teachers, and the countless volunteers who gave up so much of their time for YOUR kids. The poor example these adults are setting for their kids -- kids who incidentally behaved with tremendous poise, maturity and dignity before, during, and after the competition -- is extremely disappointing.

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