Trumbull We the People team earns top 10 finish at national competition

Trumbull High School's We the People team recently placed ninth out of 48 teams at the national competition.

Trumbull High School's We the People team recently placed ninth out of 48 teams at the national competition.

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TRUMBULL — After a hard-fought competition, the second-place team sometimes feels like they actually deserved the win. In the case of Trumbull’s 2021 We the People academic team, they were right.

We the People is an academic competition where students compete in mock Congressional hearings and are scored on criteria like Constitutional knowledge, application of precedents and more. Trumbull High’s team finished runner up to Westport’s Staples High at February’s state championship.

The second place finish was enough to earn the team a wildcard entry into the national level, but it still just didn’t seem right, according to Katie Boland, who teaches the AP U.S. Government and Constitutional Studies class that forms the We the People team.

“We never see the other schools compete, and Staples is an awesome team every year,” Boland said. “But I kept thinking, ‘This was the best performance we’ve ever had.’ It didn’t seem possible we hadn’t won.”

Sure enough, when the teams received their written score sheets two months after the competition, Boland spotted a scoring error.

“(Staples was) listed as having received 190 points on one of the criteria, and the maximum possible was 180,” she said.

The difference, out of 1,000 total points, was just enough to tip the win to Trumbull. The team went on to place ninth at the national competition.

“Luckily, we were already preparing for nationals because we had earned enough points to be a wildcard. And Staples also still got to go.”

While the national competition is normally held in and around Washington, D.C., this year the students competed remotely — In the case of Trumbull, from the familiar confines of the school’s library and classrooms.

“The first time the kids were all together this year was when we did our dress rehearsal for nationals,” Boland said. “Before that, it was all Zoom, sometimes for 30 hours a week.”

The local students, each of whom is only eligible to compete during their senior year while taking Boland’s class, agreed that their experience had been unique.

“With online school, practice sessions and team meetings, I was afraid I would not be able to hang out and have fun with my unit and the rest of the team,” said Rohit Gunda. “Despite all of this, our team got really close and bonded over the weird experience. Seeing everyone's performances at nationals absolutely blew me away.”

Gabriella Biondi said it was especially educational to be making Constitutional arguments about real topics that were before state and federal legislatures.

“One of my favorite topics from this year was voter suppression,” she said. “Following an election that took place during such a unprecedented year, it was eye-opening to learn about the discrimination so many voters across the country faced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Beyond this discrimination, as a unit we learned about prison gerrymandering that takes place right here in our home state of Connecticut.”

Before taking the class, she said she was unaware of the challenges some people face when it comes to voting.

“It was hard to fathom that so many people are robbed of the right to exercise such a fundamental right of our democracy,” she said.

Alexandra Iozzo, who argued the Federalist position on an Articles of Confederation versus Constitutional Convention debate, said the experience of arguing real issues before real judges and law professors was an experience that will be valuable in the future.

“It is not a high school class anymore, it's real life,” she said. “We talk about issues going on in the government and how we can change it before it's too late. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I am so glad I got to do it.”

deng@trumbulltimes.com