ALEXANDRIA, VA – As the date of the We The People competition drew nearer, T.C. Williams senior Jerome Maquiling spent more and more hours wrestling with one of the biggest decisions he had ever had to make: It was not only the day the he was slated to represent T.C. Williams in the We the People Regional Championship — something he had been working towards for months — it was also the day that his mom would take the oath to become a U.S. Citizen.
Jerome and his mom landed in the U.S. from the Philippines when he was just five years old. He spoke no English and at school found himself scribbling with his finger in the air to let his teacher know that he needed a pencil. Then he would tap his fingers on the closest surface to signal that he needed access to a computer. Thirteen years later, it was Jerome who was the coach for his mom as she prepared for the naturalization exam.
But instead of being by her side on that important day, Jerome was beside his teammates, defending his views on immigration rights. As he was answering questions about the Constitution, she was taking the Oath of Allegiance. That day, T.C. Williams took the crown in the We the People Regional Competition for the fourth time since the school began competing in 2013. Forty-one senior Titans went up against teams from 28 high schools to claim the title.
“My mom and I bought a set of CDs and we’d listen to them in the car on the way to the grocery store or to church. My mom would even listen to the questions before she went to bed. And then, over dinner I would quiz her. While it was helping her, it was also helping me – We were learning at the same time. Now it all seems so worthwhile,” said Jerome.
For each team, the competition comes down to a four-minute presentation to lawyers, sitting judges and professors who are steeped in the content around the questions the students must address. The honors-level course which helps students prepare for the competition, immerses T.C. Williams’ diverse body of students in the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. political system in ways that are relevant to them. Under the guidance of Ra Alim Shabazz, students learn how to debate, be effective public speakers and defend issues about which they are passionate in the context of our Constitution and government. Shabazz sees T.C.’s diversity as the key that gives the school the edge.
“The sum total of our students’ experiences are what enables us to compete at high levels and be successful. It means we have many different kinds of perspectives and opinions to bring to bear in competition,” said Shabazz.
The rigor of the class is on par with Advanced Placement (AP) courses, although it’s an honors class by design. Shabazz wants to make the class accessible to students who might not be ready for an AP class, but are ready for the challenge. For some students, it’s the first honors class that they may have taken.
“The panel requires students to defend their ideas. The ability to defend one’s ideas demonstrates deep knowledge and understanding of contetatnt that cannot be gained by reading alone. It’s one thing to be able to draft a narrative based on research. It’s quite another to defend it. And that’s where the competition is won and lost,” said Shabazz.
As Jerome and his mom came together again that evening to celebrate, they agreed that both of them were where they need to be that day.
“I was an integral part of a team strategy and my absence may have put my team in jeopardy. It was important for me to participate in order for my voice to be heard because this issue is so important to me and to my mom. I poured all of my emotions into the debate – and then I dedicated the medal to my mom,” said Jerome.
The team is now preparing to compete in the state competition in early 2019.