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Virginia is Crowned the 2023 We the People National Champion

Virginia Schools Excel in National Student Constitution Competition

Orange, VA– Virginia’s legacy of producing great constitutional thinkers lives on, and the future is bright for its students.

Over April 22–24, 2023, 48 high schools from around the country competed in the We the People National Finals, a competition based on the acclaimed We the People: the Citizen and the Constitution curriculum, administered nationally by the Center for Civic Education and run in Virginia by Virginia Civics. After three days of competition, Maggie L Walker Governor’s School in Richmond, coached by Mr. Samuel Ulmschneider, was crowned the National Champion in an awards ceremony on April 24. Douglas S. Freeman High School in Henrico County, coached by Mr. Rob Peck and Mr. Ben Fabian, entered the competition as a wildcard team and topped their division.

Photo courtesy of the Center for Civic Education

High school teams competed on a range of constitutional topics: To what extent is a constitution a limit on government and/or a limit on the people themselves? What are the similarities and differences that characterize the opposition to expanding the right to vote? Has the creation of so-called “fusion centers” violated citizens’ privacy rights, or are they necessary for preserving public safety? What are the defining characteristics of a “leading nation” in the 21st century? These are just a few of the questions these students tackled in simulated congressional hearings in front of panels of judges from around the country.

Virginia schools have historically performed very well at We the People National Finals. Maggie Walker Governor’s School has earned the National Championship five times over its long involvement with the program. Virginia schools consistently make the “top 10” every year.

We the People is an award-winning, nonpartisan curriculum that helps students understand the history and principles of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. During the competition, students present a prepared mock congressional testimony and answer follow-up questions about historical, political, and constitutional issues. The competition judges, consisting of attorneys, politicians, professors, and community leaders, assess the initial testimony of the students and probe their knowledge during the question-and-answer period, judging them on everything from constitutional understanding to supporting evidence to reasoning.

Teams first compete in in-school and regional competitions to qualify for a state competition, and if they take top honors, they may elect to dive even deeper into constitutional topics to compete in the National Finals. Virginia Civics co-executive director Jen Patja said, “We the People students have demonstrated extraordinary dedication to learning about the Constitution and the rule of law through preparing for this competition, in-class, after school, and even over numerous evenings and weekends. They’ve learned the value of research, teamwork, and how to engage in civil discourse. Our country needs these kinds of leaders now more than ever.”

Virginia Civics

Virginia Civics sponsors the We the People: the Citizen and the Constitution program in Virginia. Virginia Civics is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes constitutional literacy, critical thinking, and civic engagement, empowering the next generation of leaders in Virginia.

In supporting the program, Virginia Civics provides professional development opportunities for teachers based on the We the People curriculum, teaching resources, classroom support, and runs the annual regional and state We the People competitions. To learn more, visit


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