Mililani Times

Trojans to Compete at Nationals in D.C.

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Trojans to Compete at Nationals in D.C.

Courtesy of Jason Duncan

Courtesy of Jason Duncan

Courtesy of Jason Duncan

Alexander Ink, Managing Editor

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     From April 26 to 29, 19 students from MHS will be competing in the We the People National Finals at the National Conference Center in the Washington D.C. area. We the People is a nonprofit educational organization that aims to promote civic responsibility and confidence among high school students. The organization creates an educational curriculum and hosts a yearly national competition in which students compete in simulated congressional hearings. This year, MHS is one of the 56 American high schools participating in the National Finals.

I feel like we have a really good chance at winning,” said Junior Vivica Hope-Malalay. “The other school that competed against us actually had an independent studies class just for this thing, while we had a few weeks to prepare.”

For the last three years, instructor Jason Duncan has been teaching the class and serving as a coach for the competition. In previous years MHS had only made it to the state level — this is the first year Duncan has directed a team that has advanced to nationals. “I’m optimistic that they will do well, and I think they will do very well,” said Duncan. “It is up to them how far they will go.”

This year, MHS will be going to the competition as a “wildcard.” This means that they were selected to go to nationals even though they were awarded second place at the state level. At nationals, they will compete against schools with teams made up of members who take a course specifically for the competition, such as Kahuku High School, who was the only Hawai’i school to beat out MHS. “This is a really competitive program across the country. There are some schools that actually spend the whole year just preparing for We The People and they have separate classes for it. In that sense it is going to be challenging to compete with those schools,” said Duncan.

At the competition the students will be participating in a series of simulated court hearings. They will be given questions regarding American government and history and then presenting their answers in front of judges. “As part of We the People, they get a series of questions that have to deal with certain themes within and about the American Constitution or democracy. For example, the first unit is about the philosophical and historical foundations of the American political system. So they get a series of prompts and have to develop comprehensive responses to these written prompts that they are going to culminate and read in front of a series of judges in what is called a simulated congressional hearing,” said Duncan.

In addition to competing, students going on the trip will also have a chance to experience  Washington D.C. They will tour the city and visit sites like the Smithsonian Museum and National Cemetery. In addition, they also are trying to arrange a meeting with a Hawai’i politician. “They get to immerse themselves in American politics and history while they are there, which is totally fascinating in really clear connection to what they are doing in preparation because it gives them a concrete experiential sense of what the legislative branch of government is, what the US capitol looks like, what the supreme court is,” said Duncan. “They’ll be visiting those places and be able to directly experience them.”

For many students, We the People has taught them more about how our government works and helped them navigate their own career paths. For example, Karla Underbrink, a Senior participating in the competition, found that We the People has helped to hone skills that she will need for her future career as a lawyer. She named public speaking as one of the most valuable skills that the competition has helped her develop. “I’m very interested in government as I want to be a lawyer, and I’m planning to major in political science in college, so it just lined up with my interests,” Underbrink said. “So for me the best part was getting the hands-on experience to what I am going to be doing in the future.”

Hope-Malalay also values her experience with We the People. She has known her career path for some time, and the competition has only made her more confident about it. “I feel like I already had set goals for my life, and it fell into place with the things like this,” said Hope-Malalay. “Because with We the People, it was more political and for my future here, I’d like to do something like that. I wouldn’t want to be a politician per se, but as a lawyer, that’s really helpful, especially with the public speaking, you need that. That’s almost essential to it.”

Whether or not they come home with first place, Duncan sees that the most important aspect of the competition is the ‘sense of empowerment’ that students feel through the knowledge and experience they gain. “They can actually have a profound impact when they go out in the world and they can make a difference. To me that’s really what it’s about, it’s actually about becoming enlightened citizens and knowing how our government works and how you can make a difference in our government. I think that is what We The People does, it provides them an avenue where they build the knowledge base — where they feel like they can have a stronger role in our democracy,” said Duncan.

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Trojans to Compete at Nationals in D.C.