Williston’s We the People Heads to Nationals

To say that the final scores in the We the People state competition on Saturday were close is putting things mildly. With final scores in the 900-point range, there was a just a 12-point difference between the top two teams.

“It’s like being one point behind in a 90-point basketball game,” said Peter Gunn, faculty advisor for the school’s We the People team. “That’s how close it was.”

On Saturday, January 26, The Williston Northampton School team placed second out of nine schools—just a dozen points behind the winning Academy of Notre Dame. The second place finish was good enough for the team to earn a wild card ticket to the national championships in Washington, DC in April.

“Our young people made wonderful presentations,” Gunn wrote in an email. “They eloquently defended and extended their ideas in the following discussions.”

To earn their high score, Williston’s 25 AP US History students divided into units and took part in mock congressional hearings. They presented prepared answers to six questions, responded to follow-up questions, and were scored against other teams in the same section.

One of Williston’s units won their section; two tied for first, and the other teams placed third and fourth, Gunn said. The school totals were then calculated through an aggregate of team scores.

He noted that among the spectators were many friendly faces. Some 40 Williston family members came to cheer on the students, while Jamie Gass ’87, Emma Freeman ’05 and Timi Onafowokan ’11 all served as judges.

Advancing to nationals means that the students will have a busy two months ahead of them, Gunn said. They will start working on 18 new We the People questions (in the midst of preparing for the AP US History test). They must also fundraise, and recruit another faculty member for the trip.

“We had four months to ready ourselves for the state program,” Gunn wrote, “But the energy of the students will help carry us through to DC.”

In Washington, the students will face winning teams from 50 other states, plus four other wild cards. The program runs for two days, April 27th and 28th, at George Mason University. The top 10 schools hold the super-final round in the House and Senate hearing rooms on Monday, April 29th.

While they’re in the area, Gunn plans to also take the Williston group to key historic and government landmarks. They’ll try to sit in on an oral argument before the Supreme Court, visit the Smithsonian and may head to Mount Vernon or Monticello. In 2001, a parent’s generous support allowed the group to attend a dramatic production at the Kennedy Center, Gunn wrote.

“In short, we will do all we can to make this a worthwhile and memorable experience,” Gunn wrote.

The students will also look to help on campus as they prepare for the national competition. Over the past two months, they have worked with Williston teachers—Dave Koritkoski, Diane Williams, Andrew Syfu, Michael Doubleday, Peter Valine, Glenn Swanson, Rick Teller, Cathy Kay, and Greg Tuleja—and friends of Williston, such as Joel Wolfe and Melinda Calianos. They also faced the Board of Trustees in a mock debate.

“Having other adults ask them questions and share feedback is an invaluable aid in their preparations,” Gunn wrote of the students. He adding that, as the team prepares for nationals, “I will be calling on these kind and generous souls once again.”

6 thoughts on “Williston’s We the People Heads to Nationals”

  1. What a terrific achievement! I know from experience that, despite all the amazing, talented students at Williston, they are so busy meeting their academic, athletic and extra-curricular demands, that finding the time to prepare for events like this is an incredible challenge.
    Hats off to Peter Gunn and this fantastic group. I hope you all enjoy this wonderful opportunity to work together and to compete against the best.
    Good luck!

    1. Hi Bob –

      Thanks for the kind words about the wonderful scholarship of our students. These young men and women embraced an intellectual and collective challenge. Their collaborative effort shows how much they can learn from and with each other. We look forward to even greater challenges in the next three months and to showing the country what Williston students will do with this great opportunity.

  2. YES!!! I am pleased to see that Williston made second place in this very competitive event. Well done Mr. Gunn and team this is absolutely amazing. I know you all will do great at Nationals! Good Luck!

    1. Thank you, Alyssa.

      Coming from one who has experienced the challenge of integrating civics and history, your generous praise matters a great deal. We will make Williston proud.

  3. Peter,

    Hey there, Congrats. Send me an email. I have some materials that might be helpful in your preps for nationals.


    1. Thanks, Tim.

      These young people are so engaged with the hearing process. We are excited to go to DC – both to deepen our understanding and to improve our ability to present and defend ideas. We will make good use of whatever you can share.

      Your generous offer is deeply appreciated.


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