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MARQUETTE -- A team of 23 MSHS students is headed for the 30th annual We the People National Finals competition in Washington, D.C. after finishing second at the State Finals in Lansing in January and receiving a wildcard spot in the national tournament.
Marquette has become a fixture at the We the People State Finals, finishing in the top three five of the last six years. This will be their first trip to the National Finals though, in fact they will be the first Michigan team from north of Grand Rapids to compete at the National Finals.
“I am very proud of these students,” said their teacher and coach, Fred Cole, an MSHS Social Studies teacher. “Michigan is usually a Top 10 team at Nationals, so this is quite an accomplishment. The students worked very hard for this, and were very patient as the wildcard process played out over the last month.”
During the National Finals students participate in simulated congressional hearings. Students testify as constitutional experts before panels of judges acting as congressional committees scoring the groups through a performance-based assessment. Each class is divided into six groups based on the six units of the We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution high school textbook.
Each hearing begins with a four-minute prepared opening statement by students and is followed by a six-minute period of follow-up questioning during which a panel of judges probe students' depth of knowledge, understanding, and their ability to apply constitutional principles to current and historic examples.
During the six-minute follow up period, the students are completely on their own – no notes or other materials are allowed. The format provides students an excellent opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of constitutional principles.
We the People is one of the best learning experiences I have ever undertaken with students in my 26 years of teaching,” said Mr. Cole. Students over the years have made comments like “I have learned more from this competition than I would in a whole year of a class.”
We the People alums often come back during winter break from college to coach the next year’s students. “Even I am surprised that students are so pumped up to learn about the Constitution!” said Mr. Cole.
Attorneys who serve as judges at local and state competitions are very impressed with the students’ understanding and remark that they did not learn many of these topics until law school.
Every student in Advanced Placement U.S. Government at MSHS participates in local We the People hearings, and this team of 23 signed up to show their knowledge at the next level through the State and now National Finals.
The 30th Anniversary We the People National Finals will be held April 21-24, 2017 at the National Conference Center just outside Washington, D.C. Classes qualify for the National Finals by placing first in their state competition or through wild card availability.
Now that they are headed to the National Finals, the group faces two daunting tasks. First, preparing for the difficult National level questions, and, second, raising the funds for this expensive trip on such short notice.
The cost for the National Finals is over $1500 per student, which includes airfare, lodging, meals, ground transportation, and other costs of participating in the tournament. The team is seeking contributions from individuals, businesses, service clubs, and local professional organizations, especially for the team members whose families qualify for free lunch under federal guidelines.
Checks can be made out to “MSHS We the People” and mailed to MSHS We the People, 1203 West Fair Avenue, Marquette, MI 49855. Contributions can also be made at www.gofundme.com/mshs-we-the-people.
“We are very excited to represent Michigan and the U.P.,” said Mr. Cole. “The students have a huge challenge in front of them, but they are excited to take it on. And we really appreciate all the support we are receiving from the Marquette community. “
While in Washington, D.C., students will also be able explore our nation's capital, learn about government beyond the classroom walls, and meet with elected officials and other dignitaries.