MILFORD - Though they had a tough start, the Milford High School We the People team had a strong finish at the state level and will go on to Washington, D.C., in April to compete against teams from across America.
We the People is a program designed to encourage high school juniors and seniors to become well-educated in all aspects of the U.S. Constitution. Beginning in September, student teams start learning lessons in a special civics class to help prepare them for the program's state and national competitions.
Participation in the class is optional, according to Dave Alcox, who has been coaching students in the program for more than 15 years.
The teams compete in front of judges, providing answers to questions they were given in advance, and then fielding impromptu follow-up questions from the judges. It is the follow-up questions that reveal what the students know, said Alcox, because they have to think on their feet.
In the months leading up to the Jan. 10 competition in Concord, team members were assigned a specific area of focus. There are 18 focus areas, known as units, explained Alcox. That works out well, he said, because there are normally around 20 students on the team. This year, Alcox had only 11 students sign up for the class, half the usual number he had in past years, which is why he's especially proud his team won the state championship.
"It was a big year," said Alcox. "These kids really bought into the program and learned about citizenship and everyone's role in society."
Seven of the students had to double up and learn two units, a hefty challenge given their other responsibilities, said Alcox.
"A lot of the kids that are in the program are involved in a lot of things in and out of school," he said. "It's asking a lot of them to find the time to learn one unit, but two units is tough."
Students at John Stark Regional High School in Weare had a similar challenge with only nine students on the team, said Alcox. The team from Nashua North had about 30, while Merrimack had 15, he said.
But the hard work, memorization, and late nights spent studying at the Red Arrow Diner in Milford paid off, Alcox said, even though the morning of the competition was pretty rocky.
"John Stark was clearly in the lead when we broke for lunch," said Alcox, "but we had a break and talked about the things we needed to improve. By the second round, the kids had found their groove and just kept getting stronger."
Alcox said that while watching the team compete, he had his "mother hen moments" where the kids just excelled at answering the judges' questions, reaching back in their memories to classes taught back in September.
"They hit home runs over and over again," he said.
With the state win in hand, the students will travel to the nationals in Washington in April.