The Introduction to Political and Legal Experiences (IPLE) team virtually attended the “We the People” New Jersey state competition this year, getting second place and securing a spot to compete at a national competition this April. Nationals are usually held in Washington D.C., but due to recent events pertaining to the pandemic, it was decided that the competition would be virtual this year. We asked ourselves, given this new climate: how did the pandemic and the resultant virtual competitions affect the IPLE team and their preparation?
The goal of IPLE is to provide students with the opportunity to discuss and debate issues, concepts, and legal opinions that have formed, and continue to form, the intricacies of American politics. Throughout the year, the team also analyzes court cases during their criminal and civil law units, bringing attention to the history of the American justice system. One of their most important tasks of the year is to prepare and compete at the “We the People”state competition, demonstrating their knowledge about the Constitution during rounds of congressional hearings. The team spent about two months getting ready to compete, and during that time, each unit prepared subsequent revisions and drafts of answers for each question until they were ready to present in the four-minute time allocated. The team then proceeded to put the final touches on their presentation, honing in on their delivery of responses to judges and preparing for any follow-up questions that may be asked of them.
The team is led by teacher Albert Paulsson, who has been teaching IPLE at High School North for 14 years. Although Paulsson has prepared students for several “We the People” competitions over the years, he never suspected that he would have to prepare for a virtual environment. During this unprecedented time, many challenges arose, including limited preparation time and inability to meet with teammates face-to-face. The IPLE team specialized in remaining hyper-focused on utilizing every minute they had in order to efficiently prepare for their debate. When asked about his experience in IPLE, Paulsson stated that he thoroughly enjoys taking students into Criminal and Civil Law units, and that he worked profusely this year to make sure each student was supported during this time.
The team began preparing in early November; a majority of the two months they had before the competition was spent preparing on the first event since many members were new to the scene. However, as time went on, the IPLE team hit the ground running, drafting and editing their second and third responses within a span of only a couple weeks. When asked about how the virtual setting contributed to the process, Paulsson said, “I think the virtual setting was a hurdle to overcome for all the teams that participated in the competition. “I think our students did a great job staying focused on the goal of making it to Nationals.”
One of the key members of the IPLE team is HSN senior Jonathan Solomon, who initially took IPLE in order to further his understanding of law and politics—a field he is very passionate about. For Solomon, adjusting to the virtual aspect of the competition was a personal hurdle of his. “I know that for me personally, I actually get more nervous speaking on Zoom than in a normal setting. I’m not sure how my other team members feel in regards to this, but it’s something that I had to get over in order to do well.” Much like his classmates who shared similar concerns about the virtual competition, he was pleasantly surprised at how simple it turned out to be.
In the virtual format, questions from the judges proved to be an unexpected challenge. “I wish we did practice more as our Q&A.” said Paulsson. “Occasionally, after a judge would ask a question, there would be a long pause until someone in the group answered. I think this was due to us not expecting some of those questions.” Paulsson added that he felt that if more preparation had gone into the response time from the judges, it might have been easier. However, he ultimately concluded that, “there is never enough time to prepare for possible follow-up questions from the judges.”
Despite these less than ideal circumstances, the team looks forward to competing at a national level, and Paulsson sees a bright future ahead. “Our students did a great job staying focused on the goal of making it to Nationals,” Paulsson stated.