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We the People teacher Kelley Brown introduces Congressman Richard Neal to the team before taking questions from the eager students.
Reminder Publishing photo by Trent Levakis.

EASTHAMPTON — As Easthampton High School’s We the People team continues to gear up for another trip to the national championships in Washington D.C. in the coming weeks, they were visited by U.S. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Springfield).

Neal visited Easthampton High School on March 27 to meet with the We the People team that is coming off its seventh straight state championship and discussed with them his career in politics, their work on the team and to answer questions from the excited and curious group of students.

“It’s pretty remarkable that you’ve been on this successful run for as long as you have and I think a lot of that’s due to the determination of those of you who help to administer the school, teachers and all,” Neal said
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.

Neal assisted in a mock congressional hearing for the team and gave feedback.

Neal shared with students their eagerness to learn about the constitution reminded him of himself as a student growing up. He also spoke more about his accomplishments and explained to students that while politics can be noisy between the two parties, it’s about accomplishing goals to make citizen’s lives better.

“I have never been of the opinion that I’m always right. I think you learn a lot day to day, but I also want to say something to you on legislative life: compromise is important,” Neal said. “Your quest for facts is really important.”

One student asked Neal how much should public opinion influence representatives when voting on the law. Neal explained that students should always remember that opinion is fluid. As an example, Neal talked about how he voted against the invasion of Iraq when it was the minority opinion.

“I challenged them and I was convinced that they were wrong. Now, the problem was, for me politically, what if they were right. But I thought as a matter of conscience. I did what you’re doing here. I surveyed all the facts. I surveyed all the information,” Neal said. “Today how many people think that was a good decision. So I couldn’t succumb to just the temptation of the moment to be caught up in the fanfare of the moment and the push from the administration. So remember this about opinion, it ebbs and it flows.”

Another student asked Neal how he has been able to find success in being reelected so many times in his career. He said campaigning is a part of forming a government and talked about his experiences meeting with constituents and listening to their opinions and concerns.

After a few more questions, Neal sat in on a mock hearing and expressed excitement for the students work on his way out, while wishing them the best of luck in the state championship.

“I can’t tell you how pleased I am that you’re doing this at Easthampton High School, it’s great that you participate,” Neal said. “I made a big deal out of it when I was a government teacher.”

Easthampton High School social studies teacher Kelley Brown has coached the team since it started 11 years ago. She has led the program to powerhouse status, winning eight state titles in 11 years, including seven straight. They also accomplished a state championship in 2020.

“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,” Brown told Reminder Publishing in February.

Brown has also built a system where new members of the team each year can work with former members through a mentorship style role. Brown explained the program 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.

She continued, “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 just to 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 sets to return 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. As of press time, they have raised just under 80% of their $53,000 goal.

Those interested in donating or learning more about the program can visit 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.

tlevakis@thereminder.com | + posts