WEARE — The nine members of John Stark Regional High School's "We the People" team are heading for the state competition in January, but whether they win or lose, the civics education they've acquired is lasting, said teacher Dan Marcus.
When Marcus came to New Hampshire from Indiana to teach 10 years ago, there was no state-mandated civics class in the high schools. But before he became a teacher, Marcus was a lawyer, and he had a keen understanding of how important civics education was.
"I wanted to teach kids about the Constitution," he said. "It's something that's very important to me."
So in his second year in Weare, Marcus formed the "We the People" class as an elective for students interested in civics. When the state mandated a civics class for students as a graduation requirement, Marcus' the class became an option for students who didn't want to take the standard class.
"The class size ebbs and flows," said Marcus. This year there are nine students, some years there can be 30. "I take all comers. If you want it, you just have to sign up for it."
Sophomores, juniors and seniors learn about the Constitution, laws and our political system.
"What they learn is very enduring," Marcus said. "As kids go off to college, they often write or email me and say they're taking an Intro to Government class, but they already know everything."
What makes the information learned in "We the People" is the competition, Marcus said. Each year, the students face off against students from other New Hampshire schools in regional and state competitions. Designed to simulate congressional hearings, the students testify about certain issues in front of a panel of judges.
Prior to the competition, the students are given three questions, and they must develop thorough, four-minute responses to the questions. But the students don't know which question is going to be asked by the judges, so they must know all of the material thoroughly.
"They get so into the competition that they almost forget that they're studying," said Marcus. "Naturally, high school kids are very driven by competition. They want to achieve success."
The students are posed the question, give their answer and then must respond to follow-up questions, so having a good grasp of the subject is imperative.
John Stark did well in the "We the People" regional competition this year, and on Jan. 10, students will compete against teams from Milford, Nashua and Merrimack Valley, a newcomer to the competition.
Though all of the teams are strong, Marcus said it's Milford the students really want to beat. In the nine years they've been competing on the state level, Stark has won twice.
"The rest of those years Milford won," he said. "I have to tip my hat to Dave Alcox (Milford's coach). We know his team is formidable."
Whoever wins the state competition in January will be invited to Washington, D.C., to compete in the nationals.