Back to nationals

This is the Marquette Senior High School team that’s headed to the national We the People competition near Washington, D.C., in April. The photo was taken at the Michigan Capitol in Lansing at the Michigan We the People state finals in January. (Photo courtesy of Fred Cole)

MARQUETTE — The Marquette Senior High School We the People team has been invited to participate in the 31st annual We the People national finals on April 27-30 at the National Conference Center outside Washington, D.C.

The team was selected based on its performance at the We the People state finals and will represent Michigan as a wild card team in the national competition.

Classes qualify for the national finals by placing first in their state competition or through wild card availability.

Marquette has become a fixture at the We the People state finals, finishing in the top three six of the last seven years. This will be the second consecutive year MSHS will travel to the national finals as the Michigan wild card team.

“I am very proud of these students,” said their coach, Fred Cole, an MSHS social studies teacher, in an email. “Michigan is usually a top 10 team at nationals, so this is quite an accomplishment. The students worked very hard for this, and were very patient as the wild card process played out over the past six weeks.”

During the national finals, students will participate in simulated congressional hearings. Students testify as constitutional experts before panels of judges, acting as congressional committees scoring the groups through a performance-based assessment. 

Each class is divided into six groups based on the six units of the “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution” high school textbook.

Each hearing begins with a four-minute prepared opening statement by students, followed by a six-minute period of follow-up questioning, during which a panel of judges probe students’ depth of knowledge, understanding and their ability to apply constitutional principles to current and historical examples.

During the six-minute follow-up period, the students are on their own, Cole said, meaning no notes or other materials are allowed. The format also provides students an excellent opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of constitutional principles.

“We the People is one of the best learning experiences I have ever undertaken with students in my 27 years of teaching,” Cole said. “Students over the years have made comments like ‘I have learned more from this competition than I would in a whole year of a class.'”

In fact, he pointed out that We the People alumni often come back during winter break from college to coach the next year’s students.

“Even I am surprised that students are so pumped up to learn about the Constitution,” Cole said.

Attorneys who serve as judges at local and state competitions, he said, are impressed with the students’ understanding, noting they did not learn many of these topics until law school.

Now that they are headed to the national finals, Cole said, the group faces two daunting tasks: preparing for the difficult national-level questions, and raising the funds for the expensive trip on short notice.

The cost for the national finals is over $1,600 per student, which includes airfare, lodging, meals, ground transportation and other costs of participating in the tournament.

The team seeks contributions from individuals, businesses, service clubs and local professional organizations, especially for the team members whose families qualify for free lunch under federal guidelines.

Checks can be made out to “MSHS We the People” and mailed to MSHS We the People, 1203 W. Fair Ave., Marquette, MI 49855. Contributions can also be made at

“We are very excited to represent Michigan and the U.P.,” Cole said. “The students have a huge challenge in front of them, but they are excited to take it on. And we really appreciate all the support we have received in the past from the Marquette community. We hope that continues this year.”

While in Washington, D.C., students will also be able to explore the nation’s capital, learn about government beyond the classroom walls and meet with elected officials and other dignitaries.

According to the Center for Civic Education’s website, at, “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution” program promotes civic competence and responsibility among U.S. students. It complements the regular school curriculum by providing students with instruction on the history and principles of U.S. constitutional democracy.

For example, the high school text covers topics like the Bill of Rights and what challenges might face constitutional democracy this century.