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ABQ ‘We the People’ team aiming to compete in DC

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Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School’s “We the People” team won the state championship in December and is hoping to compete in Washington, D.C., this spring. Pictured are participant Elianna Nevitt, teacher Bill Torres, participants Aidan Gaul, Cambria Barnes, Aidan Jacks and Nicholas Mascarenas.. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Twenty-one local sophomores are self-proclaimed experts in the U.S. Constitution and they want to prove it in Washington, D.C., this spring.

The “We the People” team, a group of high school students that competes in simulated congressional hearings at Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School, participated in the state competition for the first time last year. They brought home the title in December after competing against two other schools.

In addition to class four times a week, the students practiced for hours outside of the classroom, honing their constitutional knowledge and public speaking skills.

“People say we know more about the law than lawyers,” said participant Aidan Gaul.

The 15- and 16-year-olds are now trying to compete in the 2018 “We the People” National Finals in D.C.

A total of 56 teams will challenge for the national title. At the competition, the students testify as constitutional experts before panels of judges.

The 31st annual finals will be held April 27 through May 1.

The topics the teens cover range from classical republicanism to John Locke’s “Second Treatise of Government.” They have four minutes to answer one unit of questions.

“You need to have this knowledge to be a functioning citizen in a government,” said participant Cambria Barnes.

The trip would be many of the members’ first times in the nation’s capital. For some students, joining the program was about beefing up their college applications or becoming proficient in teamwork, but the potential to compete on Capitol Hill was what drew Gaul to the program.

“For me, it was the chance to go to D.C.,” Gaul said.

The group needs about $40,000 to get to D.C. So far, the team has launched fundraisers, partnered with restaurants and received donations, but it still needs thousands to make the trip happen.

The teacher behind the legally inclined teens is Bill Torres, who teaches the “We the People” class along with English and U.S. history. Torres had taught the program at a different school and brought it to Cottonwood Classical Preparatory.

“I feel the ‘We the People’ program allows the students to become well-informed and responsible citizens, which goes well beyond the classroom. They are learning lessons that will stick with them for life and will allow them to make their communities a much better place. Like the students said, they know more than some people with advanced degrees,” Torres said.

The experience has had lasting effects on the teens, even inspiring member Nicholas Mascarenas to become a lawyer in the future.

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