Incline High’s We the People class heading to Vegas for state civics competition | SierraSun.com

Incline High’s We the People class heading to Vegas for state civics competition

Margaret Moran | mmoran@sierrasun.com

What is the relationship, if any, between the Fourth Amendment and the principles of limited government and the rule of law?

That is one of several the questions members of Incline High School's We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution are busy preparing to answer at a state competition this weekend.

"They will be tremendously competitive," said Milton Hyams, teacher of We the People and AP Government at Incline High. "They are working really hard, and they know the task at hand. … They've got a great shot at it."

In preparation of the state competition, which takes place Saturday in Las Vegas at West Career & Technical Academy, the team is devoting class time as well as multiple hours outside of class each week practicing, researching and reading relevant text.

"(Preparing) it's definitely the main focus for all of us this week," said Incline High senior Hannah Laurie, who is on the team. "We've met lot as a full class, judging each and asking each other the questions, so we can practice like its the real thing."

'A whole class effort'

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We the People competitions are designed as a mock Congressional hearing, with students opening with a 4-minute prepared statement based on the question selected by the judges that day, followed by cross examination.

Questions center on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, with students drawing upon constitutional principles, historical facts and contemporary events to support their answers.

These questions are divided into six topic units — three hearing questions per unit — with each student assigned to a unit.

Since Incline High's We the People team is small this year— just 11 members — a majority of students are assigned two units to cover the 18 possible hearing questions.

"The hard part is the amount of work they need to put into writing twice as many testimonies," Hyams said. "The other thing that would be a challenge is over the course of the day, it's exhausting for them to present … so that's a disadvantage.

"The advantage would be though in a small class, the ability for them to connect with each other and to develop a sense of camaraderie is greater."

While students are divided into separate units, with each unit scored on its performance by judges, it's how a team performs as a whole that determines whether students advance in competition.

"That is one of the cool things about We the People — it's a full class effort," Hyams said. "It's not like a speech and debate competition, where individuals or small groups would advance to the next level. Instead it's a whole class effort."

National aspirations

Incline High's We the People team will be one of 12 teams across the state competing in Las Vegas, with the highest scoring team advancing to the national finals in late April in Washington, D.C.

"Some things I really admire about this class is their tenacity to work hard to deal with the rigor of what they have in front of them," Hyams said. "This group, they are dealing with some substantial competition."

Incline will be competing against schools with much larger student enrollment such as Reed High School in Sparks, Reno High School and Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas.

"It's a substantial amount of work and commitment, and these are very busy students," Hyams said. "… Being such a small school, these students are involved in everything at school. While at a bigger school, where you have 2,000 students or 1,500 students, you can start to specialize more in terms of what you do."

Despite some stiff competition Incline faces, both Hyams and his students are optimistic about the team's chance of earning the coveted top spot.

"I think we are going to win," said Incline senior and We the People team member Mitchell Cornell. "I think we are very confident and ready."

Should the team win and advance to nationals, Laurie said: "It will definitely validate all our work. Not that our work wouldn't be validated if we didn't move on, (but) it will definitely show us that everything that we did really paid off. It would be really cool to represent Nevada."

In the past 16 years, Incline's We the People team has qualified for nationals eight times, Hyams said. Of those eight times, the team has been awarded the Western Regional Award, which is given to the highest scoring non-finalist team in the Western region, four times.

"The way that I view this class is really it's about learning about government and how to speak, and then the competition is just a way to show it," Cornell said. "Going to nationals, in my mind, would be another opportunity (to do that)."

About We the People

We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution Program aims to promote civic competence and responsibility among the nation’s upper elementary and secondary students. Nationally, the program is directed by the Center for Civic Education, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.

Since its inception in 1987, more than 28 million students and 75,000 educators have participated in the program. Visit civiced.org/programs/wtp to learn more.

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Incline High School’s We the People 2015-16 team

In no particular order: Mitchell Cornell, Conor Devine, Julia Golombik, Ryan Eppolito, Brandon Fankhauser, Allison Tong, Bryan Banuelos, Sami Lampe, Anne Schrage, Hannah Laurie and Amanda Pretti.