Washoe County School District this week announced that two teams of students placed among the top 12 in the national “We the People” civics competition. Reno High School’s team placed third and Incline High School’s team placed eighth.
It’s not the first time local teams have placed in the competition, but it’s the first time the district has had two teams achieve the feat. WCSD officials said Reed High School placed seventh in the nation in 2015, and Reno High School placed sixth last year during a modified competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The “We the People” competition requires students to testify before panels of judges to present and debate their positions on questions surrounding the U.S. Constitution. It’s connected with the “We the People” course, described by WCSD as a demanding program.
According to WCSD, students in the course complete in mock congressional hearings and testify before judging panels that include scholars, educators, judges and justices, state lawmakers, attorneys, and state and local officials. The class demands close teamwork, perseverance, trust, and integrity, as students play important roles in the presentations and must rely on their classmates to do their parts.
Preparation for this year’s competition was more challenging than in years past due to modified learning models and COVID-19 restrictions. Students and teachers adjusted their schedules, met virtually, and worked with community members to improve their skills. Several former “We the People” students also returned to help coach this year’s teams.
“These classes have worked hard all year to learn about the Constitution, current events, and civics, and then perfect their presentations. Doing all of this work during such a challenging year, when our learning models were adjusted due to COVID, makes this accomplishment even more amazing,” said WCSD Superintendent Dr. Kristen McNeill.
The coaches for both teams, Reno High School social studies teacher Richard Clark and Incline High School U.S. Government teacher Milt Hyams, both said resilience and teamwork were key to their students’ success.
“We overcame challenges regarding the class schedules, smoke days, and the pandemic. But our students believed in each other, trusted us to get them going in the right direction, and then found new ways to work together during a time when actually ‘working together’ was their biggest challenge,” Clark said. “They became a team when that was a really hard thing to accomplish.”
In addition to dealing with pandemic obstacles, this year’s students were becoming more engaged citizens during a tumultuous time in American history.
“This year, as most years, was a practical lesson in civics,” said Hyams. “Supreme Court nominees and the separations of powers, impeachment and checks and balances, Election 2020 and Popular Sovereignty, COVID and federalism–so much of this year made sense in the context of what the students are learning about. They were complex, but debatable, situations.
“However, the capitol insurrection really rocked the class’s world,” Hyams added. “It was a moment that did not fit into our larger conversations about peaceful protest and the rule of law. The events of Jan. 6 made us all ask questions about what we take for granted and stability of the republic.”