The competition civics team from Amador Valley High School is the best in the country, winning the national We the People tournament last month.
Bringing home the school's second We the People national championship in history was a testament to the hard work and dedication of this Dons team in the competitive educational program that promotes civic competence and responsibility by having students demonstrate their understanding of government and the Constitution by participating in congressional hearings, according to coach Stacey Sklar.
"This year's team is truly an extraordinary group and it has been my pleasure to work with them. Not only did they place first at each stage of competition, but they also developed a genuine love of history and civics," said Sklar, who also teaches English at the school.
For the competition, Sklar traveled with the teams through Philadelphia and Washington, D.C, during which she could see their excitement and the benefits the program was having on the students.
"That deep understanding and appreciation for our system of government is what this program really fosters," Sklar said.
It was a banner tournament for all of Pleasanton, as Foothill High School placed fourth in D.C. to give Pleasanton Unified School District two teams in the Top 4 at nationals for the second time in five years -- in 2018, the Falcons took second and the Dons were fourth. Amador previously won the national championship in 1995.
"The students and adults that make up our competitive civics teams are truly remarkable and are always an inspiring example of our PUSD mission in action: Our students will make a better world," PUSD Superintendent David Haglund said in a statement congratulating both teams for their high finishes at nationals.
The two Pleasanton schools represented California among 47 teams and approximately 1,000 high schools from across the country at the national tournament held late last month.
The Amador championship team of 22 students includes seniors Soraia Bohner and Tom Li.
Li said he was always interested in STEM subjects but one history class he took made him appreciate civics better and he enjoyed the topics of the competition more than he expected.
"I never knew that I could make a passion or really enjoy it a lot more than I did with science," Li said to the Weekly.
On the other hand, teammate Bohner said she was interested in civics and politics since middle school but the 2016 elections piqued her interest when her family started participating in public rallies.
"I don't know if I'd want to be like an elected official, that's a lot of pressure. But I would love to be a political science professor," she said.
The historic finishes by the Amador and Foothill teams this year was a culmination of thousands of hours of preparation by the students, teacher coaches (Foothill led by Jeremy Detamore and Graham McBride and Amador led by Sklar), as well as parent and competitive civics alumni, according to district officials.
"It was a true honor to coach this team," Detamore said. "Despite all the challenges of the last two years, they more than met the challenge of We the People and took Foothill to the second best showing in our history. I could not be more proud of their efforts and their accomplishments."
According to Bohner, Amador's preparation for the competition required dedication because the teammates spent anywhere from 24 to 30 hours per week outside school hours training to compete.
"Monday through Friday, we would call for three hours and we would practice," Bohner said. "And then on the weekends, we would spend six hours on Saturday and four hours on Sunday meeting, going to the library, reading books together and discussing quotes and stuff like that."
According to the Amador seniors, the secret to their success is the close bond, understanding and teamwork among team members that helped them move ahead in the competition.
"We were all really close and I think that we were able to learn a lot about each other like strengths and weaknesses," Bohner said. "It really helped each other with that. So that by the time we competed, there weren't really any weaknesses that we didn't know about, so (when the time came) we could really handle that."
Li agreed that a good friendship made it easier for them to bring home the title after over a quarter century.
"I think because our team was so well bonded, and we were really friends and companions with each other. That's why we were able to take home the national title," said Li.
After months of preparation and hard work, the students said they are in awe of their victory.
"It is an indescribable feeling," Bohner said. "We spent seven months, you know, almost 30 hours a week doing this ... To win and be the national champions, it's indescribable."