October 28, 2021 Local Stories in and Around St. Joseph, Illinois

SJO “We the People” fundraising for nationals

Gage Atwood loves a challenge.


The St. Joseph-Ogden High School senior challenged himself this year by joining two very different teams.


Atwood joined the football in the fall as well as the We the People Civics team.


Atwood said he joined the football team to physically challenge himself and the civics team to challenge himself mentally.


“So far, I have zero regrets regarding all the challenges and experiences I have endured this year,” he said.


Atwood said participating in the civics contest has helped him with public speaking, and he likes that anyone can participate in the program.


“You don’t have to be incredibly strong, incredibly smart, incredibly athletic, incredibly talented,” he said. “You just have to have a drive to learn. Anybody can sit down at the table as long as they have a drive to learn and are seeking an experience that they will never forget. Another great part about the program is that it builds character within the students who participate, and that is great for our generation.”


The We the People Contest is a nationwide civics contest.

Teams must first win their state competition or place second through wild card availability to advance to the national contest in Washington, D.C. During the contest, students participate in simulated congressional hearings and testify as congressional experts before a panel of judges who act as congressional committees.

The groups are scored on a performance based-assessment. The students have to show they have a depth of knowledge, understanding and the ability to apply constitutional principals. This is the third year SJO has participated in the contest and the third year they are headed to the national convention in Washington, D.C.


In order to go to nationals, the group is fundraising, including a dinner tonight at Monical’s in St. Joseph. Those participating can take the flyer to Monical’s and a part of the cost of their dinner will be donated to the team.
Senior Cole Zaccarelli, who has always been interested in law and politics, said he hopes people will support the fundraisers because SJO is one of the few small schools in the nation to make it to nationals.


“We bring small, rural town outlooks on certain political issues to Washington, D.C. and do so with respect from much bigger schools with more money and resources for their teams,” he said.
Zaccarelli said he learned he had a talent for persuasive speaking when he participated in a mock congressional hearing in Marshall Schacht’s Civics class last semester at SJO.


“The things I enjoy most about it are learning case law and being able to make my views on political issues more credible while also learning other’s views and debating them,” he said. “Having a civic education allows me to take part in conversations with others about politics and government without being ignorant or just someone with an opinion.”


Zaccarelli said being selected for nationals was an amazing feeling but the team has been working even harder since their selection to broaden their civic knowledge and fund the trip.


Senior Ben Setterdahl said he would describe the contest to someone as taking historical topics and simulating them as political arguments.


“This concept of researching a topic and then having a discussion on it really kind of captivated me,” he said. “Once you’ve put in all the work and done all the research, it’s like you just want to tell everyone. This program gives you that platform where you can discuss all the things you’ve learned and worked hard on with actual important people so you really feel how your voice does matter and you are heard.”


In order to attend nationals, the team has to raise $22,000.


Schacht, the team’s advisor, said they decided to do several fundraisers that were successful last year, including a trivia night that will take place in February or March, an IGA shopping cart raffle that will be drawn on March 30 and a Trail Run scheduled for March 30.


They are also planning a pancake breakfast on Super Bowl Sunday, in addition to fundraisers at Monical’s and Wednesday at Panera. To participate at Panera, people need to take in the flyer and then the team will get a part of the proceeds from their meal.


Atwood said he hopes everyone supports the team’s fundraising efforts.
“I feel as if just about everyone should care about this program. Unlike other programs within the school system, this program grows the adults of tomorrow,” he said. “This generation of students will someday be the working force in America. We will someday be lawyers, judges, cops, teachers, therapist, executives (and more) for this great country. This program is helping to create a bright future for America, and I think just about everyone hopes that their kids/future kids will wake up to a great America every morning.”


Setterdahl said the team’s fundraising is different from other fundraisers in that they aren’t just asking for money.


“The pancake breakfast, trail run, trivia night, and IGA raffle, for example, all offer people something that they are paying for as well as donates to a really good cause,” he said. “We know it is very difficult for a school our size to even make it to nationals. Many small schools like us can’t afford to go on the trip. We are so grateful for the gift that is this opportunity and we are so grateful to any of you who participate in any of our fundraiser activities.”
After they graduate, the team plans on taking the lessons they have learned with them.


Atwood is planning on being a lawyer and is enrolled in Pre-Law at Indiana State University.


“ I hope the knowledge and the lessons that I’m gaining from this competition go a long way in helping me in my professional life,” Atwood said. “Besides the law-like experience I’m gaining, I’m also building character that will help me no matter what happens later on down the road.”


Setterdahl said the team has taught him to respectfully disagree with his peers and still understand their point of view.


“I feel like I see everything with a different lens now,” he said.

The team has set up a go fund me. You can donate here.

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