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Wauwatosa students place a high emphasis on public policy competition

Two Tosa teams heading to D.C. to compete

The Wauwatosa West High School We the People contestants

The Wauwatosa West High School We the People contestants

Jan. 29, 2014

Wauwatosa West students have a legacy to uphold and are shooting for the sky in this year's We the People competition.

We the People simulates congressional hearings, asking the students questions on historical and contemporary aspects of the U.S. government. West's American Public Policy Special Emphasis students have won the state competition every year since it began seven years ago. While they've won first place — and Wauwatosa East took second — at the state level, they're not done yet.

They are shooting for a spot in the top 10 schools at the national competition in Washington, D.C., April 26.

West has only reached that milestone once, securing 10th place in 2010. The second-highest scoring team ranked 15th in 2011.

Putting in the time

Chad Mateske, the teacher of the Wauwatosa West team, said he thinks this year's group has what it takes to make the top 10.

They remind him of the 2010 team in terms of their drive, lack of internal struggle, high-achieving makeup and willingness to put in the extra hours, he added.

Each team has done the footwork needed to secure their spot as state champions as well.

"Beside the time spent in class, we have a lot of time outside of school," said Nina Best, a team captain, noting that some meetings last four to five hours.

All six West teams have put in extra hours leading to the state competition, coming in twice during winter break, once during a pep rally and even on two days when school was canceled due to cold weather.

The students are in a lull period now, waiting for the round of questions that will be asked at the national level. Once those questions hit, however, their studying and planning for the Washington trip will reach a fever pitch.

A question of funding, too

Alongside all the studying, argument preparations and cross-examination training, they'll have to raise the money to pay for their trip.

The price tag of sending all 30 students to Washington is $60,000.

They've set up a donation website at gofundme.com/6b525w, will host bake sales, sell candy bars and will ask their family, friends, neighbors and anyone willing to listen to them to send in a donation.

"We're going to sell candy bars and when we're tired of selling candy bars, we'll sell more candy bars," Mateske said. "That raised over $6,000 last year."

Their website has already raised more than $1,000.

Learning under pressure

Balancing raising money for the trip and studying was exhausting for West Senior Marena Leisten when she went to nationals last year.

"At some point you're like 'Oh my gosh, I need to learn all this stuff before we go out there or else we're not going to do well,' and so that adds the pressure," she added.

Some groups have inside jokes or rituals to help them overcome the pressure.

Junior Charlie Koepp's group assigned each of their members power animals to think of when the stress got to be too much. They'll also put their hand over their heart and say "all is well" when studying becomes grueling.

Other benefits

While each group is assigned one aspect of governance, such as changes to the U.S. Constitution, to deeply analyze, their learning spans beyond their research.

Emily Schaefer, who went to the national We the People competition last year and is helping this year's competitors, said speaking in front of federal judges and state representatives last gave her confidence to speak in public.

"If you can talk in front of them in a big room in front of all these families in a dress while feeling really uncomfortable, you can talk in front of anyone," she added.

Best, who transferred to West this year from Pius XI High School, said working with her fellow APPSE students helped her break out of her shell. She's met a few friends through the program and said she's more socially confident because of it.

Mateske said he knows his students will grow from the competition.

"It is a lot of work and something that you look back and see that you didn't die from it and that you've grown in so many ways as an individual," he said.

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