Trumbull High students prove Constitutional mettle

Trumbull High students earned the state title in the We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution competition, the school's 11th such title in 12 years.

Trumbull High students earned the state title in the We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution competition, the school's 11th such title in 12 years.

Contributed photo

TRUMBULL — Trumbull High has once again proven itself to be the home of Constitutional experts. 

A team of students, all seniors in the AP/UConn American Government/Constitutional Studies class, were crowned state champion in the "We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution" competition held Jan. 26 at Norwalk Superior Court. 

This victory was the school’s 11th state title in the past 12 years and 27th overall since the program first started in 1988. Now the team heads off to the national competition from April 22-26 in Washington, D.C. 

“Words can't express how proud I am of these 26 young Constitutional scholars in my classroom,” said social studies teacher and team coach Katie Boland. “I had tears in my eyes watching them perform at the state competition and seeing all six units do their absolute best that day.” 

Trumbull High finished first with 699 points out of 720 total possible points. Staples High School in Westport placed second with 682 points, and Greenwich High School was third with 624 points. 

“No matter the score, I knew we were winners that day,” Boland said. 

Students participating were Hannah Adams, Kaitlyn Allen, Nandhan Aditya Anandha Kumar, Ryan Berkowitz, Matthew Cherfane, Michael Citarella, McKaylan Connolly, Jake Guedes, Sophia Hatzis, Sienna Hoefer, Maggie Huang, Christina Kingan, Reshma Kode, Anisha Kurup, Catherine Langworth, Madeline Lojko, William Lynch, Anthony Martini, Connor Nevins, Victoria Orozco, Aarav Parekh, Ebby Prince Sankar, Elizabeth Steeves, Shivashankar Subramanian, Nicholas Valyayev, and Matthew Wich. 

“Representing and winning the competition for Trumbull High School makes me proud as I know we have cemented our mark on this storied program,” said Wich. “Knowing that we carried on the legacy of the teams before us means a lot to me.” 

The “We the People” program — run by the Center for Civic Education and Civics First in Connecticut — is designed to promote civic competence and responsibility among the nation’s upper elementary and secondary school students. 

The We the People program’s culminating activity is a simulated congressional hearing in which students “testify” before a panel of judges acting as members of Congress. Students demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of Constitutional principles and have opportunities to evaluate, take, and defend positions on relevant historical and contemporary issues. 

“We eat, sleep, and breathe We the People,” said Hatzis. “We would often spend hours in Starbucks doing a lot of research and developing our ideas.” 

Hatzis said the key to the preparation is communication. 

“We develop most of our arguments by constantly discussing them” she said. “We also love to discuss our ideas with professionals in the field, especially Ms. Boland and Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox, a local constitutional law professor.” 

Hatzis said the team members all share a passion for history and love to discuss their ideas. 

“Personally, I took a history elective my sophomore year that was an extremely collaborative environment, and I discovered and appreciated learning from my peers' perspectives on historical events,” Hatzis said. “I was excited to join the We The People Team because it would bring these class discussions to a new level.” 

Steeves’s group focused on how the values and principles embodied in the Constitution shape national institutions and practices. 

"For us, the most important aspect of our preparation was developing a wide breadth of knowledge,” Steeves said. “We often divided up different questions to find new and interesting evidence and had ‘quote-offs’ to share the fun quotes we found in the Constitution, Federalist Papers, and from judges and scholars.” 

She said the group chose to participate because of their love of history and law. 

“(We) really wanted to challenge ourselves and expand our intellectual horizons,” Steeves said. “Most of my unit is also interested in a future career in law, and this class sometimes feels like a mini version of law school. We're very proud that our hard work paid off in winning this competition.” 

Boland stressed the importance of civic education especially now that the nation has become increasingly polarized. 

“Civil discourse in our country appears to have taken a backseat to political bickering,” she said. “The We the People program creates an environment where the students learn to respectfully discuss and debate the historical and philosophical foundations of our country and the modern-day applications of our Constitution in today's world.” 

Boland said the simulated congressional hearing allows the students to have a “healthy exchange of ideas between the students and experts in the field, whether they are professors, lawyers, or community members like those that run the League of Women Voters, for example. 

“Students must research both sides of the topics and respond to questions with substance and passion,” Boland added. 

Among the topics covered in the competition were questions on the philosophical and historical foundations of the American political system, the framers' creation of the Constitution, what rights the Bill of Rights protects, and potential challenges to American democracy in the 21st century.

Boland said, in preparation for the competition, students met weekly with her and other teacher volunteers.

Students also hold evening practices, where Kate Donahue from the Trumbull ACE Foundation helps coordinate experts to come in and ask the students questions in the congressional hearing format. Many of these experts, like Thomas Tesoro and Madison Middle School Principal Peter Sullivan, have been involved in the program for decades. 

Kurup said, in general, the students chose to participate to get better at public speaking and learn more about government, law, and “the world around us. 

“This class has taught us this and more,” Kurup said. “Learning about politics and current issues in this depth has expanded our horizons far beyond what we had before joining this program. 
“To me, this competition is a tribute to all the hard work we’ve put in these past few months,” she added. “All of the late nights, Starbucks and library meetings, and after-school Zooms with our coaches led to this."