St. Charles High School will represent Maryland in the national We the People competition next month. The 17-member team will join the more than 1,200 students from 56 high schools around the country during the four-day competition held April 26-29 at the National Conference Center in Leesburg, Va.
St. Charles social studies teachers Michael Colatruglio and Hayley Ressler coach the team made up of sophomores, juniors and seniors. Both teachers have attended summer trainings through the James Madison Legacy Project, sponsored by the Center for Civic Education where they learned how to implement the We the People curriculum into their classrooms. After St. Charles triumphed in a local We the People competition in 2016, Colatruglio and Ressler were trained on how to maintain momentum and bring the team to the next level.
At the national finals, students test their knowledge of government and the Constitution by participating in simulated congressional hearings. Acting as constitutional experts, students must testify before a panel of judges on the six units in the “We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution” textbook.
Students open with a four-minute prepared statement which is followed up by questions from the judges. During the six-minute questioning phase, students cannot use notes or sidebar with each other.
“They are expected to come up with a response — a balanced response with equal participation,” Colatruglio said.
“They can do their four-minute prepared speech without a hitch. It’s the follow-up questions that get everybody nervous,” Ressler said. Students have to cite court cases and references to back up their statements. “They can’t just use ‘I feel’ or ‘I think.’ It has to be backed up by a variety of factors,” she said.
It helps that the team works well together. “Our environment is very open,” said Jahari Williams, a senior. “We can all share ideas and opinions.”
What they are working on is presentation, said sophomore Ryann Brown. “Sometimes we have thoughts and interpretations of things that are hard to put into words that everyone can understand,” she said.
“Getting your ‘brain words’ to morph into something comprehensible,” said senior Darius Dantzler.
“It forces you to think,” Brown added. “There is no right or wrong answer to these questions, the whole point is you gain insight from multiple viewpoints. You’re forced to think through it all, you’re forced to consider everybody’s opinions and formulate your own response.”
The experience has a lasting benefit on students, whether they go on to study government or not, Colatruglio said. “The confidence it builds is visible,” he said. “These kids are passionate about it. They have the skills of debate, research and argument. They’re all persuasive and well spoken, all college-bound students, all bound for success. The benefits of this are incredible.”
St. Charles students heading to the national competition are seniors Kush Patel, Ethan Lord, Jahari Williams, Darius Dantzler and Renee Deminne; juniors Lausanne Oliver and Michaela Pape; and sophomores Andrea Eichstadt, Thema Green, Kimberly Viveros-Baez, Camryn Jeziorowski, Ryann Brown, Anthony Barbee, Sarah McKoy, Jordan Moss, Evangeline Gilmer and Jamie Fleury.
The team is collecting donations to help fund the April trip. To donate, contact Colatruglio or Ressler at 301-753-2090.