Trumbull High We the People team heads back to nationals

Trumbull High's We the People team

Trumbull High’s We the People team

Contributed photo

TRUMBULL — From language quirks in the Declaration of Independence to limiting hate speech in social media, Trumbull’s We the People team was on top of the issue at the recent state championship competition.

But while Westport’s Staples High School was this year’s state champion and will be competing in the national finals, they’ll be joined by Trumbull, which placed runner up overall and earned yet another trip to the nationals.

“During these difficult times, the 21 seniors in my class worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic to achieve success at the state level,” said Katie Boland, a Trumbull High social studies teacher and faculty advisor to the team.

Unlike previous years, the 2020 competition was conducted online, with students broken into six units to hold mock Congressional debates on a set of diverse topics.

“It definitely took a while for me to become accustomed to it (online debate)” said Erin Melia, who debated use of hyperbole in media and the separation of powers with Unit 2 of the six-unit team.

“There are so many differences when it comes to public speaking over a computer. Instead of making eye contact with a human, you have to keep eye contact with a camera. I had to be consciously aware the entire time of speaking up, so my microphone picked up the sound, and then trying to focus on over exaggerating the inflections of how I talk, so I didn’t come off monotone,” Melia said.

The team also had to prepare for the possibility of technical issues, something they had never had to deal with before, she said: “It added a whole new level of complexity to the competition.”

Lauren Buck called going to a national competition through her laptop screen “a once-in-a-lifetime experience” and said it presented unique challenges.

“Through trial and error, my classmates and I have learned how to gesture to one another when we want to speak on Zoom, how to bond and create team chemistry without daily class and weekly Starbucks meetings and how to come across as passionate and personable people through a laptop,” she said. “It has prepared us for the times when we may need to take part in a Zoom interview or seminar, and most importantly, to be respectful of others while voicing our own strong opinions.”

Gianna Socci, captain of Unit 1, debated grievances in the Declaration of Independence and their modern implications. She attributed the team’s continued success — eight nation finals appearances in the past nine years — to resilience, hard work and team chemistry.

“Everyone demonstrated intense dedication and drive through hour-long zoom calls, late nights researching, amazing hearings to some of the worst performances you’ve ever put on,” she said. “Every day in that class and every practice competition was a challenge, but more importantly a reminder that if you meet the challenge head on you will emerge stronger and more prepared.”

The team has learned to trust their teacher, Socci said. But Boland herself puts her trust in their preparation, Socci said.

“Ms. Boland always tells us to ‘trust the process’ and she’s right,” Socci said. “Every failure and every day filled with confusion only allows you to fix the errors and grow to become a complete master of something which was once foreign to you.”

The team also trusted each other, Socci said.

“We managed to be incredibly close despite sitting behind screens and I truly believe this is what gave us the final push to our success,” she said. “My unit met almost every day after school on FaceTime, Zoom or Google Meet, to go over speeches, practice questioning or even just to hang out with each other.”

It was hard work, but also fun, she said.

“You’re working with people who you love and enjoy being around,” she said.

Madeline Marsh agreed, saying that the daily practices served as a reprieve from the social unrest and other conditions that defined 2020.

“Nothing about this year makes sense, but these people made sense,” she said.

She also grew accustomed to hard work that was also fun and fulfilling, she said.

“I’ve gotten the chance to speak with law professors, heads of civic education, Native American leaders and senators in this class,” she said. “Being able to have educated, researched discussion with them makes my voice feel heard as a young person.”

Now the team is heading back to work preparing for a whole new set of questions and debate topics. The national finals, normally held in Washington, D.C., will be held online April 24 to 26.

Then the team, composed of 21 seniors, will likely begin to prepare to head off to college and their post-Trumbull High lives. But they will carry with them confidence from their shared experience, Marsh said.

“I know the next months, and even years, are still unwritten, but now I can be excited more than scared,” she said.