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2023 John Sponski Civic Champion Cup Winner


January 30, 2023

Contact: Jen Patja Howell

Co-Executive Director, VA Civics


[email protected]

2023 John Sponski Civic Champion Cup Award Winner

Recognizing a long-time champion of the We the People program from Douglas S. Freeman High School

The “John Sponski Civic Champion Cup” is meant to recognize a volunteer, teacher, or student who exemplifies a strong commitment to building civic engagement within their community. We have named this award for our Chairman Emeritus who was one of the greatest supporters of civic education. He tirelessly supported the We the People program for 15 years, first as a volunteer, and then as a friend, an advocate, a donor, and a founding director of Virginia Civics. His dedication to education, to service, to community, to country, and to our students and teachers is what inspires this award and is what we used as the standard by which we selected its recipient.

Sponski Cup nominees are solicited over the fall and winter, and a winner is selected by a vote of the Virginia Civics Board of Directors in early January. The winner receives their name on the the larger Sponski Cup, a smaller engraved cup with their name, and a $500 cash prize.

The Sponski Cup
Photo credit: Drew Precious

This year’s Sponski Cup awardee is a civic champion to his core. He has been the director of the Center for Leadership, Government and Global Economics at Douglas Southall Freeman High School since 2000. He has been involved as a teacher with We the People for 14 years, and more than that, he has been deeply invested in keeping this program going in two ways. First, not only has he coached students in the program and brought several teams to the We the People Nationals where they consistently place in the Top 10, but since 2010, he’s also mentored many other teachers who now implement this program in their classrooms. Second, over the years he has gone above and beyond to make sure we have a place to hold our competitions. It isn’t always easy to find a suitable venue, sometimes at the last minute, and especially on a budget, and we are always incredibly grateful for the spaces we can use. Thanks to the dedication of this year’s awardee, we’ve been able to hold multiple competitions at Freeman High School including the Central Regionals in 2021 and the Middle School State Finals in 2018.

His dedication is an inspiration to his students, to his colleagues, and to us. We are thrilled to announce that the second annual John Sponski Civic Champion Award goes to Mr. Rob Peck.

Mr. Rob Peck at the 2020 Virginia We the People State Finals

About Author

Jen Patja

Emily Voss

Emily Voss comes to civic education from the museum world, where she was passionate about making museums relevant to the modern world. She currently serves as the Manager of National Programs for the Center for Civic Education. Prior to that, she served as the Education Director at the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier where she spent the past decade developing programs for adult professionals that invited engagement with America’s founding documents. She served as the Virginia State Coordinator of the We the People program for 10 years and is a co-founder of Virginia Civics. Emily holds a BA in History from Gettysburg College, and an MA in Museum Education from the Cooperstown Graduate Program (SUNY). She and her family currently reside in central Virginia.

Co-Executive Director & Chief Programs Officer

Jen Patja

Jen Patja has dedicated her career to strengthening constitutional self-government through her work with Virginia Civics, the Center for Civic Education, and Montpelier’s Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution, where she served as Deputy Director. Jen is a co-founder of Virginia Civics, and serves as a House of Delegates-appointed member of the Virginia Commission on Civic Education, a state legislative commission. She is the producer and editor of “Rational Security,” a weekly foreign policy and national security roundup, and “The Lawfare Podcast,” a daily audio production in cooperation with the Brookings Institution. Jen has held teaching and research positions at the University of Virginia, most notably in Criminology and the school’s University Internship Program with the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. She received her master’s in Sociology from the University of Virginia, and a bachelor’s in English from the University of California, Berkeley.

Co-Executive Director & Chief Operating Officer

Amelia Bochain

Amelia Bochain has devoted her professional life to effective social studies education that fosters civil discourse. As a classroom teacher for nine years, she implemented project-based learning that focused on civic engagement and encouraging effective discussion skills. She is particularly passionate about the We the People program, where she coached teams that placed in regional, state, and national competitions.

State Coordinator