For the first time ever, both We the People competitive civics teams from Pleasanton's rival high schools are headed to nationals in Washington, D.C.
The senior squads from Amador Valley and Foothill have been working hard to prepare themselves for the tournament against America's best next month, including joining forces for a showcase event next week to help raise funds for their trips to the nation's capital.
"We are extremely proud of our Amador and Foothill student competitors," Pleasanton Unified Superintendent David Haglund said in a statement. "It almost goes without saying that to have our high school teams take both the first- and second-place prizes in the state competition is a testament to the hours of preparation put in by our awesome students and the dedication of their amazing teachers."
Amador Valley's We the People team won the state tournament in Bakersfield last month, with Foothill's team capturing second, just four points behind.
As the state champions, Amador's team automatically earned a spot at nationals, while Foothill's group was selected to take a wild-card slot. The competition will take place in D.C. from April 27 to May 1.
We the People is an intensive, year-long class and program, open only to seniors. Tryouts are held at both campuses the prior year -- the 2018-19 teams are already selected.
Students on the team are divided into six different units to focus on different constitutional topics, from the philosophical and historical foundations of the American political system to the rights protected under the Bill of Rights. And once placed, the four or so students on a particular unit delve into the topic, learning it inside and out.
"I would have never guessed that I would have gained such expansive knowledge on issues of the court, different laws passed, current event issues," said David Crofton, an Amador student on Unit 3, which centers on changes to the U.S. Constitution based on principles set forth by the Declaration of Independence. "I've learned so much more about history than I ever would have expected."
At a competition, students apply their respective areas of expertise to historical and contemporary issues, opening with individual testimonial statements and then moving into a question and answer period -- a "simulated Congressional hearing," said Jeremy Detamore, who has taught Foothill's We the People class for 10 years.
"Everything is based on being able to back up your position, with logic and reason and facts and evidence and constitutional citations," Detamore said.
Issues range from immigration to the president's ability to send armed forces into action -- hot topic matters that unit teammates don't always see eye to eye upon.
"We get into massive disagreements because we're all very opinionated people," said Maggie Wade, a Foothill student and a member of Unit 5, which deals primarily with the Supreme Court and Bill of Rights.
But they don't need to present a unified platform at competition -- in fact, disagreements are expected and even encouraged by judges, Crofton said.
"We want to discuss all aspects of the conversation and not silence any particular groups," he said. "We want to be able to have a full understanding of every topic. In order to understand the best way to go about fixing problems, understanding different issues, and to do that you need to be able to listen to and compromise with other perspectives that you might not otherwise have."
"The students learn so much about the process, like why judicial decisions are handed down," said Stacey Sklar, who has been teaching We the People for four years at Amador. "They think much more like people who understand the foundations of the system, and what the boundaries of civil discourse are, and generally they respect those boundaries."
This will be Amador's 16th time heading to nationals, and Foothill's second.
This year, the two teams went neck and neck throughout the rounds. At regionals, Foothill took first and Amador second, while at the state contest in Bakersfield in early February the order was reversed.
Additional drama ensued at the state competition, when record-keepers didn't factor in a score for the Foothill team, and they weren't even listed in the top-three contenders.
"That bus ride home was the worst," Wade said. "It was horrible. It's an understatement to say that we shed a couple of tears."
But a few days later, they received a call amending the final tally, and found out that they in fact had taken second place. Because of the scoring mishap, Foothill didn't receive their second-place medals in Bakersfield, so the City Council hosted a special medal ceremony with Assemblywoman Catharine Baker for the Falcons on Tuesday night.
Foothill was later selected for a wild-card slot, meaning that both Pleasanton schools would go on to D.C. to compete against 54 other teams from across the United States.
"It's a lot of work to prepare for nationals, but I think the whole team is excited to put in this work," Crofton said. He added that the trip to Washington, D.C. would be particularly insightful as they would "be able to see all the different places in Washington, D.C. that have historical relevance to things we're talking about."
"I know for a fact that if I ever have to work hard for something, there's a reward on the other side," Wade said. "I've learned so much about the world, and it makes me want to help it."
Though they remain fierce competitors, the two teams will co-host a fundraiser next Thursday (March 29) from 6-9 p.m. at the Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave. Donations are accepted at the door, and auction items will be available for purchase.
The money raised is vital for the teams, who have to pay their own way to nationals without any school district funding.
The fundraiser will include a demonstration during which the two teams will perform a simulated congressional hearing in the style of their competitions.
For more information, visit the "We the People Nationals Fundraiser" page on Facebook or contact Jeremy Detamore at firstname.lastname@example.org or Stacey Sklar at email@example.com.