EASTHAMPTON — Once again the Easthampton High School We the People team has won the state championship and have their eyes set on the National Tournament in Washington, D.C., this April.

We the People is a curriculum and program that is offered by the Massachusetts Center for Civic Education, a private, nonprofit, non-partisan 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.

This is ultimately what the competition is when Easthampton High School matches up against other schools in the state, and they’ve grown to become a powerhouse as this latest win marks seven straight state championships, totaling eight now in 11 years.

“I was very excited and incredibly proud. Each year we have a new group of students so it’s never going to be a given and so I was just really excited for them. They were incredibly proud of the work that they did and how they were able to pull everything together,” said Kelley Brown, a social studies teacher at Easthampton High who has been leading the charge as the head of the We the People team every year of its existence at the school.

Brown said it’s a combination of things that have led to the sustained success for the program. For starters, she said with the new questions and areas of focus that come each year it has only sharpened her knowledge and widened her access for different resources that she and her students use to prepare for the competition.

Brown credits returning students working with new members each year through a mentorship-type role as another reason for the successful run they have had.

“All of the things that they learned they’re able to share with the students. Additionally, the attention and time on learning students in the class get from not having just me but an additional eight to 10 teachers that can work with them, help them and coach them,” Brown said.

Brown added many of her former students over the last decade that have come through the We the People team have begun careers in law or government, something that makes her proud and gives her firsthand experience of the impact the class and its material had on students.

She added volunteers in the community will come in and help students with public speaking and that the community and the school community know the We the People team has become something they can be proud of.

“I think that we’ve built a program that people are excited to be a part of, that they’re excited to take on the challenge, and that’s something really exciting,” Brown said. “I hear people ask students why they choose to get involved and they talked about the fact that they heard about it in elementary school, and it’s been something they’ve wanted to do since they were little.”

Brown continued, “It just shows, I think, that we’ve created something that’s bigger than a course that students take, but really a program of excellence that people want to be a part of, and I think additionally our community is so supportive. Students will say things like, ‘I’ve never been a part of a program where my entire community cared about how I was doing,’ and this is something special about the program. I think everyone in Easthampton knows about it and everyone in Easthampton wants it to be successful and is excited to hear about their progress. We just know when we go that there’s so many people rooting for us and supporting us that that also makes a big difference having that incredible support.”

Brown said students take many academic risks in joining this team that has created authentic group work and built a family atmosphere. In preparation for the competitions, Brown will bring questions to teams of usually three students and allow them to prepare a four-minute statement on the question.

The goal is for students to use information learned from the unit and bring forth in their statement and discussion about a question presented during the mock congressional hearing. This is how each unit is assessed and what the competition itself is.

Once the second half of the school year begins, focus moves on to the competition. Assembled in teams of three, each group has a unit that has already been studied and they have three questions on it that they have to prepare a four-minute statement for on each question. A few examples of the prompted questions for nationals being currently studied by students are, “What are the Philosophical and Historical Foundations of the American Political System?” “How did the Framers Create the Constitution?” and “What Rights does the Bill of Rights Protect?” This is the frameworks for how the We the People team is assessed on their ability to demonstrate the knowledge from the units in front of judges at tournaments.

Brown said she is encouraged to see how student’s way of thinking begins to change each year as they take the class, as many grow as critical thinkers through the practice of expanding on reasoning for answers in the competitions format.

“Students in school, a lot of times, learn things and forget them very quickly because they’re not actually really learning them. They’re just sort of memorizing or they’re reviewing something but in this course, you really have to learn things in order to be able to teach them to other people because that’s the nature of the presentation,” Brown said. “They just have come to understand a lot about themselves as learners. These skills that they develop are incredibly important.”

Brown added the program also helps students become civic-minded individuals and learn how to have disagreements but still come away with basic respect for an individual, a much-needed reminder with today’s political divisiveness.

“As much as this is about winning a competition, from the very beginning I emphasize that it really isn’t what it’s about. It’s about becoming good citizens. It’s about learning self-discipline, learning the soft skills that are going to help them in whatever part of their life that they actually decide to pursue,” Brown said. “I really try to emphasize to students that it’s really important to develop skills in civil discourse and to be able to think about and entertain ideas, even if they don’t necessarily agree with them. Helping them think about things from multiple angles and not just take a position on something because that’s what everyone else around them is doing and to help them think about why that’s important. And really to just encourage students to think about things with reason and with evidence before they become passionate about it is something that I think they have come to really appreciate about this program and helps give them clarity in a really foggy world of politics these days.”

As the team is gearing up to return back to Washington, D.C., for the National Championship from April 13-15 to face off against 55 other teams from around the country, they are looking for support as they raise money to cover travel expenses. They have a fundraising goal of $53,000 to cover the 25 students and three adults and have begun collecting donations. As of press time, they have raised just under $10,000 toward their goal.

Each student on the team will also be involved in a 24 and 24 campaign. The campaign’s goal is for students to find 24 people to donate $24 each in helping raise funds.

Brown shared that those interested in donating or learning more about the program can visit https://sites.google.com/epsd.us/2024-easthampton-wtp/home. If you prefer to send a donation directly to the school, you can address a check to Easthampton High School or deliver cash to the following address: Easthampton High School, c/o Kelley Brown, We The People, 70 Williston Ave. Easthampton, MA 01027.