Tops in Maryland

Boonsboro team heads to nationals soon in competition about the U.S. Constitution

Boonsboro team heads to nationals soon in competition about the U.S. Constitution

April 23, 2007|by JANET HEIM

BOONSBORO - It may be the first year Boonsboro High School has competed in the "We the People" competition, but it wasn't beginner's luck that earned the 11 students the spot as Maryland's top team - and a right to compete in the national competition.

"They worked very hard," said team adviser Karri Ernst, an AP Government and Honors Government teacher at Boonsboro High.

Students answer questions on different aspects of the Constitution, such as political philosophy or amendments.

Questions such as "How did the framers of the Constitution look to preserve their personal rights?" and "How did ideas of the Reformation influence the Constitution?" will be posed to the teams.

Ernst had served as a judge for the district competition for two years and said she was always amazed watching the St. Maria Goretti High team, whom she described as "fabulous." Ernst believed Goretti had won the district competition for the past nine years, which earned them the right to compete in the state competition.


As Ernst prepared to add a yearlong Advanced Placement (AP) Government class to Boonsboro's curriculum last fall, the expectation was that those students would be part of a "We the People" team at the high school.

Other students from last year's and this year's semester-long AP Government class rounded out the team. Team members include Amanda Bundick, Jake Demers, Katie Farr, Turner Hirsch, April Hoffman, Maura James, Kyle Kane, Courtney Monninger, Ira Redman, Adam Stephens and Jon Wood.

All but one of the students are seniors. The seniors are headed to college with majors such as political science, government, law, history, physical education, international studies, journalism and music.

At Boonsboro High, being on the "We the People" team is an extracurricular activity. At Goretti, it's a class, Ernst said.

This year's district competition was held Dec. 18. Eleven teams competed, with teams from Boonsboro High, Clear Spring High, North Hagerstown High and St. Maria Goretti representing Washington County. The judges awarded points to the teams based on their four-minute prepared written statements and six minutes of verbal followup questions.

"This whole thing is essentially a Congressional hearing," team member Turner Hirsch said.

Boonsboro's team received the highest total points, followed by Goretti. It was discovered that Boonsboro and Goretti had been given different sets of practice questions - Boonsboro was using last year's questions, while Goretti had received this year's questions - so Goretti was advanced to the state competition along with Boonsboro.

"In the long run, that fueled my students," Ernst said. " . . . Boonsboro is the first public school to win in Maryland in a very, very long time."

With five teams in the state competition, Boonsboro's team returned to school determined to earn the top spot.

Frank Carden, who retired from the Navy and taught at St. James School for six years, is known for his bowties and command of U.S. history and the Constitution. He has been a judge at the district competition for five or six years and said after seeing the Boonsboro team in action at the district competition, he called Ernst to offer his help as they prepared for the state competition.

"As one of the judges, they won hands down," Carden said of the district competition.

The state competition was in Annapolis on Feb. 12 and again Boonsboro earned the highest total points. Now, their goal is to finish in the top 10 at the national competition.

Ernst has also arranged for other county Social Studies and government teachers to come in and work with the students, preparing them for even the most obscure questions. Not only have the students learned a lot about U.S. history and the Constitution, they have also grown in their research, writing and public speaking skills.

The national competition is in Washington, D.C. from April 27 to May 1. There will be one team from each of the 50 states, Puerto Rico and Guam, Ernst said. Many of them will be from private schools, charter public schools and government advocacy schools, she said.

The top 10 teams will compete on Capitol Hill, possibly in front of members of Congress, Ernst said.

Boonsboro team members are preparing in their own ways.

Ira Redman jokes that he sleeps on his study book for extra help. He's serious, though, when he said it is Ernst's leadership that has led to their success.

She turns the compliment back to them. "This is a great group of students," she said.

Ernst said she's been hesitant to share the students' declarations that they were going to win at the district, then state levels. This time, though, she said she believes them when they say they're going to be a Top 10 team at the national competition.

The team's excitement for winning the state competition was tempered slightly after they learned the national competition was the same weekend as Boonsboro's prom.

Determined to make the most of both opportunities, they arranged it so they could compete early Saturday, then later Sunday so they could attend prom.

One student is even missing a trip to Cancun with her place of work to be at the competition.

While Ernst shares her students' pride and anticipation of the national competition, she worries about how the group will pay for their trip to Washington, D.C. She said the trip will cost them $10,000 and that donations would be greatly appreciated.

Ernst said donations can be sent to Boonsboro High School, 10 Campus Ave., Boonsboro, MD 21713, with a notation for the "We the People" competition. For more information, call Karri Ernst at Boonsboro High School at 301-766-8022.

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