Students from Milford High School get a pep talk from teacher and coach Dave Alcox at the "We the People" state championship in Concord on Jan. 11.
A team of 19 students from Milford High School became state champions in civics for the second year in a row Jan. 11, after a close competition with two teams from John Stark Regional High School.
The Milford team will represent New Hampshire at the national "We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution" competition in Washington, DC, this April. The state finals, held at the Legislative Office Building in Concord, featured a day-long series of mock congressional hearings.
Groups of three students from each team took turns presenting four-minute arguments in response to curriculum-related questions about the history and concepts of constitutional law. Panels of distinguished judges Ė volunteer attorneys and government officials Ė then quizzed the students with follow-up questions that required them to apply the lessons from their "We the People" classes to current affairs, both domestic and international. Question topics ranged from the Great Compromise of 1787 to the difference between cynicism and healthy skepticism.
Students who enroll in the elective "We the People" civics courses work extremely hard to prepare for the competitions, both during and after school. But Milford senior Brooke Olsen and other participants say the chance at a state or national title is not the only benefit.
"Iíve created my own opinions now," Olsen said. "I have my own opinion, and itís not based on what my parents think or anything else. Iíve gained so much knowledge about the government that it surprises me how much I didnít know before."
With matching black suits and "power blue" shirts, the students from Milford impressed the judges, not only with the depth of their constitutional knowledge, but also with their public speaking and presentation skills.
"Weíre talking in front of three judges, and itís kind of nerve-wracking, but it helps a lot," Milford junior Devan Crawford said. "We practice hand gestures and presenting, and thatís going to help in college and in general."
Longtime "We the People" judge Martin Honigberg is a veteran attorney at Sulloway & Hollis with many years of experience in the political arena.
"Iím impressed by them every year," Honigberg said in an interview after the state competition. "They never fail to come up with some new and different take on something."
Honigberg said he finds the positive views and engaged dialogue of the students to be encouraging.
"Iím in and around politics a lot, so I hear a lot of the cynicismÖ but itís good to hear the optimism and the recognition that things have been better and can be better, and there are things we can do to engage the citizens," he said.
The 2012-13 school year is the 26th year that the NH Bar Association has sponsored this nationally acclaimed civics education program. The program aims to enhance studentsí understanding of the institutions of American constitutional democracy while challenging students to discover the contemporary relevance of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
At the high school level, schools participate in regional and state competitions. The top performing high school team attends the national competition in Washington, DC. This yearís national competition will take place April 26-29.
In addition to staging the annual competitions, the Bar Associationís Law Related Education program coordinates the distribution of sets of books for the "We the People" curriculum and promotes annual teacher training institutes organized by the national program sponsor, the Center for Civic Education.
The Bar Association has continued to sponsor "We the People" despite the loss of specific grants from the Center for Civic Education, which saw its federal funding for the program eliminated two years ago.
The Milford High School team must now raise money for the trip to Washington. To make a donation to the team, send a check to We the People, c/o Milford High School, 100 West St., Milford, NH 03055.