Trumbull's 'We the People' students are top in the state

Trumbull High School’s We the People team has earned gold and statewide recognition for the fourth year in a row.

On Dec. 15, the 22 students in teacher Katie Boland’s AP and Early College Experience Government class took home first place in the state. This is the fourth time Boland’s Trumbull students have earned the state championship for the “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution” competition.

The students began their preparation at the start of the school year, working to become experts testifying on constitutional issues in a simulated congressional hearing.

The state championship was held at Central Connecticut State University.

“Trumbull High School We the People is not simply a class or competition, it is a passionate and personal presentation of how we believe our Constitution is living in each and every American citizen,” Frederick Tamarkin, a member of the team, said. “Over the past few months, this engaging program has provided experiences leading to one insightful morning: the state competition. Our success can be attributed from two places: an amazing class motivated to express their personal constitutional story and more importantly one extraordinary teacher, Ms. Katie Boland, who provided this unmatched opportunity.”

Now in its 28th year, the competition, sponsored by the Center for Civic Education and Civics First, involved entire classes making presentations and answering questions on constitutional topics from judges around the state. The teams were judged not only on the content of their opening statement but also their ability to answer follow-up questions from a panel of judges regarding both opinion and fact. Trumbull High School competed against teams from St. Joseph’s High School, Greenwich High School, South Windsor High School, Staples High School, and Torrington High School. Trumbull came in first, followed by Greenwich and Staples. This victory marked Boland’s fourth straight victory at the state level.

Besides doing research and collaborating, students had the opportunity to practice in competition-like settings at the high school and the Town Hall Council Chambers. Local lawyers, college professors, judges, politicians, Trumbull ACE board members, and teachers and administrators from Trumbull High and Hillcrest and Madison middle schools served as judges to give students feedback and tips for improvement. Trumbull Academic Challenge for Excellence Foundation (ACE), led by liaison Kate Donahue of Trumbull, organized multiple practice sessions for the team throughout the semester.

“Being in unit 1 really changed my perspective of politics,” Trumbull High School senior Chiaki Santiago said. “I would have my own personal opinions about certain issues concerning our nation, but to be able to combine them with historical founders of our country just makes it even better. I definitely couldn’t have asked for a better class. It teaches you so much information about our government and its history and traditions that most Americans probably don’t know.”

The team also received help from a graduate of Trumbull High School and former We the People state champion, Andrew Gladstein. Gladstein invited the Trumbull team to his law firm in New York City in early December for special practice sessions. Special counsel and attorneys from his law firm, Schulte, Roth & Zabel, provided extensive background research and posed difficult questions to the group to push their research further.

“Working with the lawyers allowed me to have real-world experience,” Trumbull High School senior Julia Murphy said. “It was so beneficial to see their perspective rather than an educator’s, because it provided us with even more preparation and scholarly law journals to review.”

The team now advances to the national finals, to be held in Washington D.C., from April 24 to 27, to compete against teams from all over the country. Boland’s 2013 team came in eighth place in the nation and it hopes to do even better this year. The class will have a new set of questions in February to prepare for and more research to be done.

“This class has met and exceeded expectations I never knew I had,” senior Erin Wingo said. “I have been given challenges that I never thought I could overcome, and having the tools to do that has been amazing. I love being able to argue any point, and BICEN (Trumbull’s We the People team) has turned me into a news junkie.”

The team members are Victoria Carter, Avery Collins, Eric Eisdorfer, Meghan Farrell, Caroline Forster, Elianna Gerb, Nicholas Grew, Zaineb Haroon, Justin Jager, Rohit Kandala, Krystyna Kryzanski, Julia Murphy, Daniel Netting, Nikhil Ramachandran, Anna Ribbens, Chiaki Santiago, Thomas Switzgable, Frederick Tamarkin, Emma Thornton, Bridget Weston, Erin Wingo, and Michael Zabin.