We the People... we the fundraisersIt sounds like the premise for a game show: know all you can about the Constitution and Bill of Rights, be prepared to answer questions about the U.S. government and how it works, don’t be intimidated by the state Supreme Sourt justices who are judging you — or by the other nationally ranked teams competing against you. And, on top of all that, also raise $35,000.
By: Sarah Gorvin, The Republican Eagle
CANNON FALLS — It sounds like the premise for a game show: know all you can about the Constitution and Bill of Rights, be prepared to answer questions about the U.S. government and how it works, don’t be intimidated by the state Supreme Court justices who are judging you — or by the other nationally ranked teams competing against you.
And, on top of all that, also raise $35,000.
But that’s exactly what Cannon Falls High School’s We the People team faces. And team members only have until April to do so.
“We have to raise a lot,” student Shannon Phelps said.
We the People is a nationally recognized program sponsored by the Center for Civic Education. Its purpose is to teach people about the Constitution and get them interested in participating in government.
Competitions are held each year at state levels. Winners are then invited to compete at in Washington, D.C.
The Cannon Falls We the People team — made up of 23 advanced-placement government students — competed against other Minnesota teams at the state Capitol in St. Paul in early December. Their efforts there earned them a spot at the national competition.
“We worked really hard before it,” student Phelps said. “We worked really hard.”
Students from Cannon Falls have competed in the national We the People competition for years. Previously, federal and state grants have just about fully funded the trip for Cannon Falls, providing the students with more than $30,000.
The federal funding for the program was cut two years ago, something the students’ adviser Heather Loeschke knew going into the state competition. But the team wasn’t prepared to hear that the state funding for the program had dried up this year.
Now, the students will have just a few months to raise more than $35,000.
“Just getting them ready for that rigorous competition is stressful enough,” Loeschke said.
The fact that the students now have to fundraise for their entire trip “puts a stress and a strain on the students and myself,” she said.
“When you’re looking at over $30,000, that’s a massive amount of money in a short amount of time,” Loeschke said.
So far, the students have made an appeal — in the form of a mass mailing letter — to residents and businesses in Cannon Falls.
But they’re also hitting the streets and planning events to help raise the rest. The students spent the first weekend in February bagging groceries at EconoFoods in Cannon Falls. Their efforts over those two days raised nearly $1,000.
They’ve also planned to hold a constitutional trivia night at the Cannon River Winery March 22.
“Regardless, we just have to hit the numbers,” said Rose Althoff, a parent who is in charge of the team’s fundraising.
Loeschke said many parents have pledged to support the team however they can. But other families simply cannot afford the extra money to send their children.
“I’ve got kids who are on economic hard times,” Loeschke said.
To lock in the $35,000 price tag, the students needed to make a $7,500 down payment to the competition’s travel agency by Friday. Loeschke said the team was able to do that only with parent funding.
But that’s something she said she hopes to avoid when the second $7,500 payment is due March 15.
“We’re looking for any family not to pay anything for this,” she said.
Both students and parents agree that the trip — no matter how difficult getting there will be — is still worth it.
“I’ve learned a lot more about the whole Constitution and how the government works,” student Ian Althoff said of preparing for the competition.
“Now we know what their jobs are and how we can participate,” added Phelps.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to see Washington, D.C.,” Rose Althoff said. “It’s a great opportunity to see government in action. They’re our future leaders.”
“Every goal of an educator is to create a lifelong learner,” she said. “When you can take kids to the Capitol and you can bring them to where government is supposed to exist, it becomes extremely real, it’s very engaging. They realize they can be part of what they’ve spent years learning about.”
How you can help
Anyone wishing to donate to the Cannon Falls High School We the People team can send a check made out to the Cannon Falls Education Foundation, 820 E. Minnesota St., Cannon Falls, Minn., 55009. Make sure to write “We the People” in the memo line. You will be mailed a receipt for the tax-free donation.