A dynasty marches on: Easthampton High’s We the People win state title for 7th straight year

Easthampton High School’s We the People class won their seventh straight “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution” competition in late January. From left, team members Sophie Slaghekke, Ethan Mullaly and Addison Barr answer questions from judges.

Easthampton High School’s We the People class won their seventh straight “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution” competition in late January. From left, team members Sophie Slaghekke, Ethan Mullaly and Addison Barr answer questions from judges. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS/DARREN PORT

Members of the Easthampton High School’s We the People team celebrate another victory at the state competition.

Members of the Easthampton High School’s We the People team celebrate another victory at the state competition. CONTRIBUTED/DARREN PORT

From left, Ella Belcher-Timme and Makenna Slate, shake hands with judges at January’s competition.

From left, Ella Belcher-Timme and Makenna Slate, shake hands with judges at January’s competition.

We the People program mentors encourage members of Easthampton High School’s  team preparing to testify at the competition. Standing from left are  Jeffrie Surgen, Klaudia Rivera, teacher Kelley Brown, Moira Larson and teacher Taylor Dadmun.

We the People program mentors encourage members of Easthampton High School’s team preparing to testify at the competition. Standing from left are Jeffrie Surgen, Klaudia Rivera, teacher Kelley Brown, Moira Larson and teacher Taylor Dadmun. CONTRIBUTED/DARREN PORT

Members of the Easthampton High School’s We the People team pause for a photo outside of the EMK Center where the competition took place. From left are Chris Gallagher, Jintha Kim, Sam Barr, Ethan Mullaly, Roman Powers-Moran, Yug Patel, Jackson Scott and Finn Garvey.

Members of the Easthampton High School’s We the People team pause for a photo outside of the EMK Center where the competition took place. From left are Chris Gallagher, Jintha Kim, Sam Barr, Ethan Mullaly, Roman Powers-Moran, Yug Patel, Jackson Scott and Finn Garvey. CONTRIBUTED/KELLEY BROWN

By Aria Martinelli

For the Gazette

Published: 03-07-2024 11:34 AM

Modified: 03-07-2024 4:25 PM


EASTHAMPTON — They did it again.

Easthampton High School’s “We the People” class — proven experts on the U.S. Constitution — captured the state title for the seventh straight year at the “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution” competition in late January.

The win, the team’s eighth overall, means the 21-member team now gets to represent Massachusetts at the national competition in Washington, D.C. on April 12. There, they will face thousands of students from all over the country in hopes of taking home a title, like they did in 2020.

What is the magic ingredient to this winning streak in a competition that tests students on their understanding of the Constitution and legal principles and is run by the state Center for Civic Education?

There are likely many answers to this question, among them the way that longtime history and government teacher Kelley Brown, who has built the We the People program to what it is today, creates a collaborative space where failure and risk are rewarded and critical feedback is valued and encouraged.

Brown has been teaching at EHS for 23 years and coaching the We the People class since 2010. She believes that as a teacher it is important to help students see multiple arguments and perspectives as well to cultivate a respect for how to agree and disagree.

“This is a human skill that we don’t see much of today,” Brown says.

“We need civic education to make sure that our future leaders and our current leaders understand how our government system works and the types of virtues and behaviors that are necessary to effect compromise and to engage in civil discourse and to base our decisions on reason and not solely passion,” she says.

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Brown says We the People helps students learn these skills.

“As community members and citizens of this country, being able to help students not only understand, but develop an appreciation for the history, the institutions, the Constitution is incredibly important right now,” she continues.

The competition is the culmination of a year-long study of the Constitution. At the national competition next month, the students will testify as constitutional experts before panels of judges acting as congressional committees testing their knowledge, understanding, and ability to apply constitutional principles.

Brown’s class meets every day, even on snow days, affirms Devin O’Brien, a member on the team.

The students are committed and have developed a passion for the material.

“To watch them start from scratch and develop into these confident young adults who not only can speak publicly and think on their feet and build reasoned arguments backed by evidence but actually enjoy doing it is fantastic,” says Brown.

Managing nerves

Nerves? Yes. But manageable.

The students have learned to work with them. Addison Barr, another member on the team, says, “A lot of it is being able to stay calm and act like it’s a conversation because there is a lot relying on your public speaking skills and your ability to think off the top of your head.”

Many of the students speak to how Brown emphasizes that it is a conversation rather than a questioning. Relying on the hard work they have already put into their study is helpful too.

Students Ella Belcher-Timme and Grace Pappadellis are interested in how the Constitution is applied today and how it has been changing over time. Constitutional liquidation is a hot topic in class discussion.

The two teammates share their excitement in learning about the framers who believed in equality and supported abolition. Pappadellis enjoys learning about the niche parts of the framers’ lives that influenced the way that they wanted the Constitution to be framed. She also speaks of it being an honor to have the opportunity to learn about the Constitution when women of the time weren’t allowed to vote.

The students express that the spirit of collaboration and friendship is important in forming a strong team.

“When you’re actually friends and have a connection and bond with people in your unit, it can make it a lot easier to work together,” says O’Brien.

“This class fosters that belief that you’re not the only one who is passionate about this. And when you have a community behind you, it can make you feel a lot stronger,” O’Brien continues.

O’Brien hopes to coach the We the People team one day and become a history teacher like Brown.

“I think this is a super important class and I want to bring this to another school if I can because I think every kid should take this class,” she says.

“Once you come in, you can’t really leave. It’s a family; it’s so much more than a class,” O’Brien shares.

The opportunity the students have to become a mentor after they have completed the course is a valuable asset of the program. Brown speaks about how fulfilling it is to have her students come up to her after the competition expressing their desire to become a mentor. Passing on the teaching bug is incredibly fulfilling to her. Brown’s words to her students reflecting on her experience, “you learn by teaching others, that’s just like the coolest thing.”

Roger Desrosiers, director for the Massachusetts Center for Civic Education that sponsors the team, expresses his excitement and confidence in the students abilities. However he is not surprised. Desrosiers, a former We the People coach, attests to the transformative potential that the program has.

Desrosiers is still in communication with his students from his first class who are around 52 years old now. “They continue to believe that this was the most important thing they did in high school,” he says.

Fundraising effort

The team’s is currently raising the $53,000 needed to attend nationals, and they are hope the community will support them at sites.google.com/epsd.us/2024-easthampton-wtp/home.