Some of you have heard me say or seen me write that not everyone I consider family shares my blood. I have special people in my life that I considered my adopted daughters…Rachel and Diana. I have formers students that I look at as Maury considered Mitch…Emily, Jenna, Maddie, and so many more. There are former students that have shared my favorite book and included me in their lives long after they were my students…Tiernan, Julia, Natalie, Erica, Meghan, Megan, Annie, Tory, Halley Rose, Angie, Jessica, and so many more.

In a special part of my heart’s family are my Weoples. Every year as our journey comes to a close my heart begins to fill with the dread of the end and the joy of what my babies have become. I have seen it every year…the growth, the light of understanding, and the maturity of thought and knowledge. They become forces of nature. I have seen so many of my former Weoples become leaders at the high school and now college. I watch them embed themselves into social issues. They make tangible my hopes and dreams when I started this class seven years ago. Winning trophies has never been very important to me; other than the acknowledgement that someone else appreciates what my kids have learned through hard work and introspection. Just for clarification, I am competitive and like the feeling associated with winning; however, that is a short-term feeling. What lasts are the long-term civic involvement that these kids have shown. This year has been a tough year in teaching for me. I am never in the same room with all of my class at the same time. This year’s Weoples have shown such grace and growth.

I was going to focus on their work leading up to Nationals, but instead I want to focus on this team. They are the deepest team that I have ever taken to Nationals. They have lost to much from their junior high years as they missed Camp Tecumseh; a normal ending to 7th grade, and competed at Regionals, State, and Nationals via Zoom…never knowing the experience of face-to-face competition in front of a real audience. They persevered despite missing the full experience of previous years. However, I don’t want to dwell on that. I want to dwell on them…my hoodlums, my angels, my babies, my Champions, my “chosen family”.

Unit 1 – My Philosopher Kings. My girls. There was a risk when I put this unit together. Unit 1 requires the ability to understand deep subject matter. They study Aristotle, Plato, Locke, Hobbes, Cicero, and Rousseau. All of them could handle the material; the danger was that three of them tended to fall on the quieter, contemplative side…sorry Bella…that is not you…you were always my “first responder”. I bet on Addie, Ashley and Olivia to find and believe in their voices…and boy they did. I have always had what has been called a “vendetta” against quiet, talented kids. I believe that still-waters run deep and, even more strongly, believe that they must raise their voices and lead…hence my Philosopher-Kings. At Nationals the judges missed a chance to really see their depth when the judges did not dig into the concept of “higher law”—Unit 1 understands CLEARLY that there are two types of higher law, but judges missed their chance. Addie, Ashley, and Olivia took on the role of the thoughtful philosopher with a certain glee; my favorite moments were when one of the three would show some snark when answering a judge’s questions; like when the judge asked if a short or long constitution was better. This unit was fortunate to be led by my little tour-deforce Bella. Sometimes you get lucky. She came back to public school in 8th grade and my team was better for it.

Unit 2 – My Historians. Our team has a history of very good Unit 2’s. The key is to put kids into the unit that can handle the history and have the ability to draw equivalencies to today. These kids specialize on the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and Colonial State Constitutions. This unit fit in perfectly with the demands of the unit. Gurvir, Grant, Melia and Sydney all have great memories; Melia and Sydney brought a fair amount of sass. Gurvir was the unit’s captain and was one of two first responders…Melia often filled the same role. Gurvir’s preparation was unmatched; I am sure that if you asked him he could list all 27 grievances in the Declaration and follow it up with links to the Constitution. Grant has this reflective cool that plays well in questions that require a thoughtful answer. Sydney was my hammer. Sydney would not tolerate false comparisons and refused to be led by judges into opinions. She always made the clever connections in competition. Melia normally made me smile at least once a round when she would pontificate an answer…she would have also been great in Unit 1 with her philosopher leanings. These kids loved to lean into questions; it was not hard for me to figure out who was going to talk next as they tended to lean into a question and give a little smirk before speaking…great for units…bad if playing professional Texas Hold-um.

Unit 3 – The Constitution Experts (with a touch of sass). This group was probably one of my two best Unit 3’s of all-time. They LOVED to compete and REALLY loved when judges asked them questions. What a group. Led by Maggie Mae, this group leaned into everything. Unit 3 seems at first glance to have an easier time of the subject matter than the other units because its focus is really on the Constitutional Convention; however, looks can be deceiving. There is a sub-question that drives the judge’s questions….it is about the separation of powers and checks-and-balances. So on one hand you need a unit that can handle all the background information; i.e., a very long cheat sheet. However, it needs to also have strong opinions and a touch of sass. Navi, Lincoln and Maggie Mae were great with the depth of information. Their ability to tackle all the compromises and Constitutional pieces and parts was great. The sass was brought primarily by Ella…she of varying hair colors and STRONG opinions on current events. She is a force of will on any perceived injustice; it is just a matter of time before she is pictured leading the forces of justice against the forces of evil. Lord have mercy if she ever gets super-powers. Lincoln was one of my favorite people to watch compete. He would smile from the first question until the final goodbyes; he brings his athletic competitiveness to the unit. He likes the last word so that he can wrap up the answer. Navi brings such a calm into competition; his easy style and quality answers are like a house’s foundation…he sets the supports that allow answers to build. Maggie Mae will someday be on top of a business, political, or society pyramid…she is meant to lead. I will miss her coming into my room between classes just to be sassed about something.

Unit 4 – The Storm. May be the finest unit in my history of We the People. My munchkins may not stretch very far on the family growth chart, but their growth as Weoples was stunning to witness. Tanvi captained this unit. She is added to her considerable talent by finding her voice, feuding with Riebe, and developing a fair-amount of sass…sometimes directed at me which should be a violation of international law…when I am elected dictator of the world this will be outlawed. Sloan provided a sense of calm to the feisty three; even though her competitiveness was on display in competition. She would wait to bring in the factoid or proof to the argument. Sloan and, her twin, Lincoln joined their older sibling, Tiernan, as the first siblings to win three National championships for my team. Jenna was an unknown to me before tryouts last year; she had a moment in tryouts that showed me a conversation backbone…I picked her at that moment. She wears her passions on her sleeve and has zero poker face. She talks to judges as an equal…I love that about her. Jenna does not suffer foolish questions very well; I also love that about her. My journey with Riebe started before 7th grade when she walked into my room on Preview Day and would not talk to me, let alone make eye contact. We may have struggled in our 7th grade journey for her to become what I believed she could be. I will let her give her side of the story someday, but there MIGHT have been some wild accusations until she fought back. Well that fighter came out and she became a We the People rock star. Watching her on the last day as she went toe-to-toe with a professor from Clemson University was one for the ages. I gave each of the girls a bracelet with the following engraved on the inside, “Fate whispers to the warrior–You cannot withstand the storm”–and the warrior whispered back…”I am the storm

Unit 5 – The Lawyers. This unit was so much fun for me. I built this around two of the most competitive humans on the planet…Parker and Claire…both of them would cut off a leg in competition if they thought it would help. Every criticism drove them to learn more. Parker was an immoveable object when it came to case law…judges would try to push him to move off the law into speculation and he would not budge. Parker looks at the law with a engineer’s mind. Claire is the captain and works harder to get further. Every new case is another obstacle to winning. Her inventory of case law is amazing. She learns each case and the impact. She quizzes her team to ensure everyone can speak to any case. She is a competitive swimmer and brings that same drive into We the People. She is a force of nature and will make a mark on this world before she is done. Sarah and Ollie balance the unit with opinions and nuance. Sarah is the person who can see the other side and notices the grey areas of settled law. In competition she listens carefully to the arguments made and rounds out the opinions. She also has a vicious eye-roll which never fails to make me smile; even when she directs it at me. Ollie….Ollie…Ollie. She is the third Weople from her family. She is passion and obstinance rolled into one human form. I can count on her to question everything; in competition she has NO PROBLEM finding the other side of the argument. She picks on me nearly as much as I pick on her. I will miss her terribly, but don’t tell her…shhhh.

Unit 6 – Everything Controversial is Their Focus. They get all the fun subjects…voting, immigration, international agreements, citizenship…. This unit requires a certain type of student…opinionated and aware is great…radical tendencies help. Bronwyn filled the role of the fire-touched activist really well, BECAUSE she truly is a fire-touched activist. She has protested against gun-violence and is strongly motivated to make this world a better and safer place. When Bronwyn talked there was an earnestness to her words. Jak…the parkour master…much like his predilection for leaping over 4-foot walls; Jak is the counter to popular opinion…he brings up the loyal opposition viewpoint. Jumping Jak could always be counted on to build on the answers of his teammates. Perla….mistress of the answer, “No”. Perla is a passionate debater who likes to start every answer to judges with the word, “no”. She is the perfect Unit 6 person…passionate, articulate, and willing to get into the debate. This unit was led by Delaney who is easily one of the most talented people on the team. Delaney is something to watch compete; she simply knows everything…not through some inner-Google mechanism, but from hard-work and the ability to synthesize and connect information. Delaney also made the transition from student to learner. She wants to understand and know; not just memorize and regurgitate.

Next year’s team reciting “Invictus” to this year’s National Champions…the baton is passed

There is little left to say about these kids; they are special and are destined for greatness in this world. I am their biggest fan. I will miss them to no end.

We the People Middle School 2021 National Champions!

My first National champions are graduating this year. Four years few by so fast. One of their many legacies is my face on various objects; first t-shirts, then socks, ties, stickers…this years kids wanted face-masks….quashed it.

Back in May 2017 I wrote the following about these kids.

I am on the long bus ride back to Fishers and the sounds of snoring, math questions, laughing, the odd of yelling of “Yahtzee”, and every now and then my phone beeps with another pic of one of babies sleeping.  With my earbuds in and songs from a random playlist filtering out the road; my mind is still trying to place their accomplishment in my mind palace.  Euphoria, satisfaction, and a profound sense of sadness take turns dominating my inner voice.

My mind replays my team powerfully reciting from memory Henley’s Invictus to an enthusiastic crowd of family, supporters, Civic Education staff.  When I see all the photos of that moment that dominate my social media feeds I can see the joy on their faces; not just the joy that comes from a moment of happiness, but the joy that comes from the achievement of dreams; dreams that require work unseen, dreams that require a unwavering commitment, dreams that are shadowed by the fear of the disappointment of coming up short.  Their faces so alive that it lifts the hope and spirits of all who witnessed the moment.

This blog is hard to write.  My mind drifts and for awhile the path is unclear. 

I don’t know to start this part of my blog.  How do I write about my 31 “Angels”, “Hoodlums”, “Future Presidents”, and “Babies”.  Their journey has been so long; preparing for competition for 9 months.  We have had a countdown calendar for competition for 160 school days.  They never wavered.  They are so resolute.

From the very beginning we recited Invictus; of course, like most things in my class there was a dual purpose.  One it allowed me to work on their presentation skills.  I also hoped they would begin to understand the importance.  Describing We the People competition to students in the beginning of the year is impossible; my default is to say, “You don’t know until you know”.  There was a moment at State when I forgot my copy of the poem; they recited it from memory.  The moment froze in my mind; a few cited the words from memory, but for most they meant the words they recited.  The knew “the fell clutch of circumstance” was competition; they knew better than to “wince or cry aloud” about what they could not control; they never “bow” their head in submission; they were found “unafraid”; truly they were the masters of their fates and the captains of their souls.

I have shed many tears over my kids.  They are tears of joy; there is a touch of loss; they are tears of love.  Watching them at State started the waterworks; there were moments when their responses echoed the big ideas from class.  All the work was justified; they had learned; they understood; they had become a “great and powerful thing”.

Watching them grow second semester into what they were at Nationals is the most satisfying moment of my working life.  They rained knowledge down on to the judges; it was the culmination of months of hard work.  The judges were stunned and more than a few times the judges would catch my eye and smile which would cause my eyes to moisten.

In between rounds at State I read to them a chapter from Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet about work.  Most teared, some cried, some parents cried; of course, I had to fight the good fight to get through.  It was not just the power of the words; it was the power of the application of the words through my band of thirty one.  They transcended education for grades; they desired knowledge, they desired to understand, they desired to work with love; they truly are love made visible….for me.

My kids are not perfect.  They are still 13 and 14 years of age.  But there is a moment when they WERE perfect.  There is a moment of pure joy; of pure bliss; when everything was right in their world; when everything was laid bare; when they could drink deep from the life’s marrow.  Some one captured the moment.  Take a second and look at their faces.  They are, for a moment, immortal.

This is the picture that gives me the greatest satisfaction.  Their joy fills my heart.  These kids fill my heart.

In a couple days we say goodbye.  My chest tightens when I think about it.  It is not unusual for me to struggle at the end of the year.  Saying goodbye is like that for me; it is never the same after my students leave…daily contact dwindles to visits and unexpected moments.  It is why I teach right up to the last day; normalcy is my coping mechanism.

I know the greatness that lies with these kids; it will be fun to watch them grow and contribute to the world’s narrative.  To everyone that helped my kids on their journey; thank you.  To my kids; not everyone that I consider family shares my blood…you are family.

Watching these kids during high school has been eye-opening to the power of these citizen-scholars. These kids became class officers; club presidents; leaders on the stage, field, and classroom. Fourteen were recognized at Fishers High School’s Summa Cum Laude banquet with a GPA of 4.3 or higher. One was named an Indiana Academic All-Star from Hamilton Southeastern High School. I am so proud of them.

What About Retirement? Well I am not retiring for at least two more years. I thought that this year was it for me. Luckily, or not…time will tell, a few things changed my mind. First and foremost was the “Covid-year” was not the way I wanted my last year to be with no Nationals in DC, no Camp Tecumseh, no normal classroom environment, no Charger Challenge, no “House-Points” and no classroom projects to speak of. Second, this year’s Weoples saved me from the fall doldrums that nearly had me retiring at semester. Also taking control of my health and fitness has given me a new lease on life…I have lost over 60 pounds and walk-run 5 miles every day with a goal of a 5k on June 23rd. Lastly, I want Jenna Pyle to have a chance to replace me.

Jenna just finished her sophomore year at Ball State in Social Studies education. My plan is for her to student teach for me and then interview to take my job. Jenna was my student, three years a Camp Tecumseh counselor, my cadet teacher, a high school We the People alum, and, most importantly, she has a teacher’s heart. Tony Sturgeon would be a great team mentor and, of course, I will help her as much as possible with her We the People team. Now the only snag would be if she pulls a Rachel Stady and disrupts my “master plan” by falling in love and moving away from Fishers…still bitter…still love her, but still bitter…I could already be retired and sitting on a beach with my Diet Mt Dew Slushie Machine…but nooo…love conquers all.

Final Thoughts

I promise to write more this summer…

If you need something to read. I would recommend Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King. A tough read. Thanks Patrick Bradshaw….may have jaundiced me forever against Florida.

Thank you Joe Reitz for reaching out to me to give me an update on you and your ever-growing family…six kids…hard to believe you were my student 23 years ago.

Thank you Tony Sturgeon for being my teaching partner for the last 24 years…I am forever grateful for your friendship and being my safe place during the last year. Thank you to Kevin Stumpf and Dave Broviak for their friendship in our modified “B” Lunch at the picnic table when warm and socially-distanced in Tony’s room the rest of the time.

Congratulations to my friend Deb Kletch for being name our building’s Teacher of the Year…you are a science teacher’s science teacher.

Good luck to Julie Strawhacker, Sarah Evans, John Schwoeppe, Robin Passwater, Karen Bowen, Angela Compton as they leave our building for new adventures.

Thank you to Jim Ziino for helping to teach me how to run and survive the build up. Your patience and kindness mean a great deal to me.

Thank for to Mark and Angie Fassold for hosting us in April; it was a treat to meet Anthony and Mia. Also thank you to Belinda and Oscar Fuentes for coming up for Easter. It warmed my heart to spend time with family.

Thank you Laurel for almost 29 years of marriage.

Thank you to my kids and their husbands for becoming my friends and partners-in-crime.

The Family on Spring Break in San Antonio, Texas – April 2021