Every Monday evening in the City Council Chambers, debate swirls around issues such as the strength and weaknesses of federalism and the merits of political parties.
The 30 members of the Constitution Team are steep in preparations to head to Washington, DC next month, where they will compete in the National Finals of "We the People, The Citizens and Constitution" — an annual competition examining students' knowledge of the Constitution, its history, the theory behind it and how the law reinforces it.
The competition takes the form of a simulated Congressional hearing, with teams divided into six units comprised of three or more students. Each unit focuses on a particular area of the Constitution and gives a 3- to 4-minute speech in response to a formal prompt. A panel of three judges have six minutes to ask follow-up questions.
Only one team from each state, the District of Columbia, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands will compete in the National Finals, which takes place April 27-May 1. In the 24 years Arcadia has participated in the program, the team has held the California state title five times and won the National Finals twice, first in 1993 and again in 2010.
Despite the team's incredible success over the years, advisor Kevin Fox says winning is not his priority.
"My job is to develop conscientious citizens," he said. "Every year, my goal is to help these kids figure out what it means to be an American citizen."
During their time in Washington, the team will enjoy an informal barbeque with important officials from several government agencies, and meet with Congressional representatives from the San Gabriel Valley.
The students on the team represent the cream of the crop at Arcadia High School.
The team is culled from an intensive selection process that whittles 130 applicants down to 30. To apply, the students — all seniors — must be enrolled in an Advanced Placement government course.
Past Constitution Team members have gone on to work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency or have vibrant careers as lawyers, doctors and engineers. One recent alum completed a joint M.D./PhD program through Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"These kids are hungry," Fox said.
Jeanne Kuang said being a member of the Constitution Team expanded her worldview. For the first time, she was able to "be part of something bigger than myself."
"I'm really grateful to have had this experience," the aspiring journalist said. "It's really opened my eyes to the world. It's easy for us to have a narrow-minded view of the world because our lives can be quite small."
Phillip Juarez said he trusts each member of the team to give their all at Finals. However, in the end, the outcome of the competition will be of little consequence.
"No matter what happens, the values, knowledge and pride we take out of this will make us who we are," he said.