Easthampton High School’s We the People team meets with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Springfield) on the steps of Capitol Hill.
Photo credit: Easthampton We the People team, Kelley Brown

EASTHAMPTON — Easthampton High School’s “We the People” team visited the nation’s capital to compete in the state championships for the seventh straight year, totaling eight visits over the 11 years of the program.

While they finished in 10th place, it was another reminder of all the great work accomplished by students and staff.

We the People team teacher Kelley Brown, a social studies teacher at the high school, told Reminder Publishing the students competed hard over three days and even with the 10th place finish, the team had scored better than any previous Easthampton team to make it.

“There were 48 teams, so finishing in the top 10 is really fantastic. I’m pretty sure all of the schools that we competed against have at least 1,000 students in their student body so we really are a tiny school compared to the schools that we were competing against. It’s pretty exciting,” Brown said.

We the People is a curriculum and program offered by the Massachusetts Center for Civic Education, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes civic education in public and private schools and communities. Open to juniors and seniors, the course focuses on learning about the American constitution and governance from its philosophical origins to modern application.

The course is divided into six units where students learn about different aspects of the constitution and government studied throughout the semester. At the end of each unit, classes go through an authentic type of assessment where they participate in a mock congressional hearing.

Just returning from the trip to Washington D.C. on April 17, Brown said while not prepping for or participating in the championships, she and the team visited landmarks and museums all over the historic city, a fitting location for the “We the People” team to explore. Brown added the trip to Mount Vernon was probably the group’s favorite part.

During their final day visiting, they spent time on Capitol Hill as they met with Brown’s former student, Mike Martin, who now is chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Mark Alford from Missouri. Martin took questions and spoke with the team for about an hour.

After that visit, the team met with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Springfield) on the Capitol steps as he was on his way in for a vote. Neal visited the team in March where he answered questions and participated in a mock hearing with the students as they prepared to compete in the national championship.

“It’s something to look forward to and something that I love to do again, but it also is really different with every group of students,” Brown said. “This group had a blast, and we really had a fun time.”

Brown said seeing her students’ growth throughout the year and even during the trip while competing is something she enjoys the most about each year.

She added the course has always served as a way for students to become civic minded and grow as people while learning about government and politics.

“Each student comes with a certain set of skills that’s immediately valuable to the group. Each one of them grows in different ways and to be able to see that all come together in such an amazing show of knowledge and skill is incredibly rewarding to me as a teacher and I know it’s incredibly rewarding for the student mentors that help with the program and so that’s been something I’ve been reflecting a lot on,” Brown said. “They really just had a moment to shine this weekend and I know they’ll take all of those skills with them throughout their lives.”

Brown said it’s hard to sum up the entire program and what has been built other than “it’s kind of magical.” She added a big reason behind that is the support from the Easthampton community.

Another takeaway Brown has after another year in the books is all the opportunities that have come from the curriculum and its success, as students each year meet with many state officials and representatives while learning so much about the nation’s founding documents and political landscape.

“My goal always in a program like this is not just to create smart students, but to help create good people and they know that. We talk about all the time the value of civic virtue, personal virtue,” Brown said. “It’s just fun to see them in action because when we go out they’re kind, they’re polite, they’re supportive to each other but also to everybody that they meet.”

Brown credited students for their hard work and determination throughout the competition and that while they weren’t able to come away with the title, students understand sometimes that’s just the way it is.

“In the end I think they also come to realize that despite the fact that they’re competitive and want to win these things, they all appreciate the amazing skills they’ve been able to develop in this program, and the appreciation they have for their government and the constitution, and their role as citizens, it’s just amazing to watch and it’s rewarding and its inspiring and it gives me hope for the future,” Brown said.

tlevakis@thereminder.com | + posts