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State champs: Constitution team

The Arcadia High School Constitution Team is headed for Washington, D.C. This year’s Apache team, led by teacher-coach Kevin Fox, won the state finals in Sacramento Friday, Feb. 5. The Arcadia team, which was announced the winner and honored at a banquet in the state capital immediately after the final round, will represent California in the national finals, to be held starting April 24 in the nation’s capital.

Larry Stewart

Larry Stewart

Amador Valley High of Pleasanton, the state champion last year, finished second to Arcadia in this year’s competition. Amador Valley, Arcadia’s chief rival, has won the state title eight times, dating back to 1992.

Arcadia, which won the national championship in 1993, last won a state title in 1997.

Arcadia High School Constitution team meeting Governor Schwarzenegger the day before the competition began. The Governor told the team to win. They did! (Photo by Frank Huang.)

Arcadia High School Constitution team meeting Governor Schwarzenegger the day before the competition began. The Governor told the team to win. They did! (Photo by Frank Huang.)



Arcadia annually makes the state finals and usually ends up battling Amador for the title. (Story continues following video below of last year’s Constitution team rehearsals in January 2009 at City Council Chambers, with highlights of their fellow AHS student Mirai Nagasu‘s inspirational performance at the national figure skating championships that same month..)

Get the Flash Player to see this content. I know a little about this competition, which officially is called “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution.” My daughter Jill, now 31, as a senior at Arcadia High was a member of the 1996 constitution team, which back then was also called the “government team” and under the guidance of now retired teacher Ron Morris. That year, Arcadia finished third and Amador Valley won the state title and went on to finish second by one point to a school representing Oregon. Amador Valley had won the national title the year before.

I attended the state finals in Sacramento in 1996 and witnessed first-hand how difficult this competition is and how serious the Arcadia students take it. There were plenty of tears after Arcadia’s third-place finish. Third place might be celebrated at other schools, but not at Arcadia High. Centennial High of Bakersfield, competing for the first time, finished second to Amador in 1996. Centennial was fifth this year.

Another member of the 1996 Arcadia team was Kelly Kovacic, this year’s California Teacher of the Year and also headed to a national finals competition of her own in D.C. Her parents, Gary and Barbara Kovacic, became the unofficial parent leaders of that 1996 team and Gary, an Arcadia city councilman, has served as a coach ever since. He will be making several trips to D.C. over the next few months with his daughter and the AHS team.

A side note is that Jill, as a freshman at UCLA, befriended a member of that Amador Valley team, Olivia Sanwong (now Olivia Handerson), and they became roommates. To this day, Olivia is one of Jill’s best friends. They were bridesmaids at each other’s weddings, both in 2007.

The “We the People” competition involves testing high school students’ knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights over a two-day period. It involves three separate sessions in which five-member panels present four-minute opening statements and then answer questions during an 11-minute follow-up. More than 300 students competed this year.

The Arcadia team, all members of Mr. Fox’s Advanced Placement Government class, met as a group to practice each Monday night at the City Council Chambers. Individual five-member units also met with their coaches on a weekly basis.

Implemented nationwide in upper elementary, middle and high schools, the “We the People” program has reached more than 30 million students and 81,000 teachers since its inception in 1987. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Education under the Education for Democracy Act approved by Congress and directed by the Center for Civic Education.

Students have to demonstrate their understanding of the constitution before a simulated congressional committee consisting of constitutional scholars, lawyers, civic educators and government leaders who judged the classes’ performances. The judges test the students’ comprehension of the six units of the “We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution” text.

Here is a list of those six units and the names of the Arcadia team members and their coaches:

• Unit 1 – “The Philosophical and Historical Foundations of the American Political System.” (Wini Addanki, Jamie Griswold, Joann Park, Andrew Taylor. Catherine Tong. Coach: Jillian Engle, a student at Pasadena City College who was on the 2009 AHS constitution team.) • Unit 2 – “How the Framers Created the Constitution.” (Winston Chang, Derek Ha, Michael Kallin, Joanna Shen, Bonnie Tam. Coach: Kevin Fox, Arcadia High teacher who will be making his first trip to the national finals after 11 years as the “head coach” of the constitution team.) • Unit 3 – “How Changes in the Constitution Have Furthered the Ideals of the Declaration of Independence.” (Jennifer Hang, Frank Huang, Jesse Li, Andrew Lin, Polly Wu. Coach: Karyn McCreary, an attorney and another member of the 1996 AHS constitution team.) • Unit 4 – “How the Values and Principles Embodied in the Constitution Shaped American Institutions and Practices.” (Madyson Cassidy, Amanda Kallis, Sangavi Pari, Tim Semenov, Shen Wang. Coach: Jim Romo, an attorney who is a former school board member and a longtime volunteer.) • Unit 5 — “The Rights That the Bill of Rights Protects.” (Pallavi Bugga, Greg Chen, Lauren Hanna, Rayla Hylbom, Kiko Sunata. Coach: Bob Garrett, an attorney and former member of the City of Arcadia’s Human Resources Commission.) • Unit 6 — “Twenty-first Century Challenges to American Constitutional Democracy.” (Robel Abdella, Andrew Chang, Ruodi Duan, Daphne Fan, Kathy Garcia. Coach: Arcadia City Councilman Gary Kovacic, who is also an attorney.)

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