By Katta Hules
The Arcadia High School Constitution Team is going to the ‘We the People’ Citizen and Constitution Challenge National Finals. The team, which is comprised of 30 seniors from the Advanced Placement (AP) American Government and Politics class, won the State Championship in Bakersfield last month and was commended by the City Council last week. Social science instructor Megan Leahy teaches the AP Government class and coaches the team. “Most people look at teenagers and think they don’t care about politics, but here’s proof that they actually do and they want to have civil discourse even in light of what’s going on in current political climate,” Leahy said at last week’s Council Meeting.
Mayor Gary Kovacic honored the students at the Council Meeting with certificates of commendation and a speech. The Mayor has been mentoring the team since 1995 when his daughter Kelly joined. Additionally, volunteer coaches Kevin Fox, Miriam Lopez, Mark Hong, Carl Nielsen and Bob Garrett help critique and mentor the team.
Arcadia has been competing since 1988, according to Mayor Kovacic, and has placed in the top four in the State finals every year. The Arcadia Constitution Team has made it to Nationals six times, winning in 1993 and 2010.
The Arcadia team was started by social science teacher Ron Morris, who ran it for 11 years before passing it to Kevin Fox, who coached the team for another 15 years. Leahy, an Arcadia High alumnus, remembers watching her friends participate in the team during her time as a student. When she came back as a teacher, she asked if she could help out and became a co-coach. When Fox stepped aside to become a volunteer coach, Leahy took over and is in her second year as primary coach. “I love it. It’s so much fun. It’s a lot of work but a lot of fun as well,” she says.
The students on the team will participate in a mock congressional hearing and compete by testifying as experts in front of a panel of judges acting as congressional committees. The curriculum is based off the “We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution” high school textbook and each team is divided into six sections, one for each unit in the book. “Each hearing begins with a four-minute opening statement by students and is followed by a six minute period of follow-up questioning during which judges probe students’ depth of knowledge, understanding, and their ability to apply constitutional principles,” according to the competition’s website. “Pretty much anything the constitution can cover they [the team] will discuss,” Leahy said in a recent phone interview.
She believes it is a great learning experience for the students. “It really makes them have to be critical thinkers where there isn’t an easy or right answer,” Leahy says. She cites complex issues like gun control and religious liberty, where the someone’s views on the matter contain “spectrums of belief, all of which are rooted in that person’s own belief system” and make getting an objective solution that can satisfy and benefit the majority of the populace very difficult.
The trip to Nationals for the team will cost a total of $65,000. Although, Leahy says, parents are being very generous, she wants to try and defray the costs as much as possible. If you would like to help the team, there are three ways you can donate. First, you can mail a check straight to the school care of the Constitution Team. “That’s probably the best way,” Leahy says, “because we get the whole amount.” Checks can be sent to the school at 180 Campus Dr., Arcadia, CA 91007.
There is also a GoFundMe account set up (https://www.gofundme.com/ahsgov16), though, Leahy says, the website does take a cut of the total money they earn. Finally, the team will be holding a fundraiser at Paco’s on Tuesday April 19th from 3-9 p.m. A percentage of all take-out and dine-in profits will go to the Constitution Team’s trip. Paco’s is located at 200 E Foothill Blvd in Arcadia.
The National Competition will be held on the University of Maryland campus from April 22-25. The competition will culminate in a final round held at the Dirkson Senate office building on Capitol Hill. If you want to see the team in action without flying to Washington, the Arcadia team has practices open to the public every Monday night in the City Council Chambers at 7:30 p.m.