West Valley High School

Fairbanks students are preparing to go to Washington, D.C., this spring, following a West Valley High School win at the We the People competition this December.

We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution is a national program that assesses student knowledge of the Constitution. Over 1,000 students participate in the nationwide competition finals, which act as simulated congressional hearings. To travel to nationals, though, the state champions will join ranks with another local school.

“It’s Team Alaska, and it’s students from West Valley High School and Hutchinson High School, and the teacher from Hutch is Danette Peterson,” said Amy Gallaway, West Valley teacher.

While West Valley won at the state level, the Center for Civic Education allowed them to put together a state team with anyone that competed in the state competition, according to Gallaway.

The center also provided some funding to assist with travel costs.

“The Center for Civic Education gave us $4,400 which is a scholarship for students, that’s the cost of two students,” Gallaway said.

West Valley has won the state We the People competition three other times in the past five years — 2019, 2017 and 2015 — each time under Gallaway’s direction. The We the People website does not include any information for Alaska in the 2018 and 2016 competitions.

Gallaway said West Valley has been participating in We the People for the past 15-20 years, but she’s been doing the competition herself for the past six.

“I have a class called We the People government and students sign up for that class to be part of the competition,” Gallaway said.

The concept is to give students a deep understanding of the constitution, she added. It lets students show their knowledge and create civil discourse skills.

She does simulated congressional hearings in her regular classroom too, just for the class competing.

She has had mayors, school board members, legislators, attorneys and judges, including Alaska Supreme Court Justice Susan Carney attend to judge the process.

Gallaway has students participate in We the People, both in competition and in her classroom because she says it’s “absolutely vital” they learn to voice informed opinions to experts and be able to create a dialogue so they’re comfortable testifying to school board, borough assembly or the state legislature.

She said she tells her students voting is not enough; they have to be able to tell representatives their opinions. By taking part in the class, according to Gallaway, students learn how to have civil discourse with people who intimidate them.

“It demystifies the democratic process and it allows students to realize that their voice is powerful and that they have a role in our government and in our civil society,” she said.

National finals will take place April 24-27.

“So far we have 11 students going and it would be great actually if we could get to 12, but we can compete with 11,” Gallaway said.

The 11 students committed to going will still have to fundraise in order to head to national finals. Gallaway’s class will be fundraising until March 31.

“We are still fundraising because students still have to,” Gallaway said. “It’s $2,200 a student and while we have two students paid for, we still have a number of students that have to fundraise the whole amount in order to go.”

Gallaway can be reached at amy.gallaway@k12northstar.org.

Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal