The reading list for the 11th-grade social studies class sounded more like college than high school: Plato, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and James Madison.
But when the 19 students who make up the junior class at the Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School finished their philosophical and practical readings earlier this spring, they were poised to compete in the citywide "We The People: The Citizen and the Constitution" civics competition.
"We spent hours after school and sometimes came in on weekends," said Quanic Fullard, 16, of the months of preparation for the event. On March 16, Thurgood Marshall, at 421 Alabama Ave. SE, defeated Cardozo, Coolidge and Wilson high schools to become the first school east of the Anacostia River to capture the D.C. title and represent the city at the national level of civics competition.
The Marshall academy offers what it calls a law-related education, integrating issues of justice, equality, law and government throughout the curriculum.
On May 1-2, the Marshall team took part in the "We The People" national competition, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Crystal City. The contest, sponsored by the congressionally funded Center for Civic Education, tested teams from all 50 states and the District on their knowledge and understanding of constitutional principles.
Starting at midday on May 1, the Thurgood Marshall students participated in simulated congressional hearings, explaining their views on the compromises that went into the writing of the Constitution, and on the importance of a strong executive -- with examples -- before panels of judges.
"We were very pleased with their performance," said Justin Rydstrom, their social studies teacher. "This is not something in which these students are typically engaged. A number of the judges were not only impressed with them, but one said he thought we could be a top-ten team in two years."
The national title was awarded to New Jersey, but Fullard said experience in preparing for the competition had helped the class learn to work cooperatively and to improve their written and spoken grammar and presentation skills.
"One person might start, and the other two would rotate if they knew the answer," she said. "If they didn't, they took their hand off the table as a signal to the others" that they intended to pass. "We worked really well together," she said.
Now in its 17th year, the competition spurs schools and students to understand political theory and the values and principles of American constitutional democracy.
But it is also fun. The D.C. competitors got to spend three nights in the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Northwest Washington, and the Pentagon City shopping center opened its food court for a student celebration at the end of the competition.
More than 1,000 students partied and danced to "every type of music except country," said Fullard.
And now, she said, the students intend to apply the lessons from their civics class to their everyday lives.
So when a teacher told his Thurgood Marshall students he didn't want to see any advertising logos on their T-shirts when they came to "dress down" Saturday classes, the 11th-graders knew how to respond.
"We said back, 'That's against our First Amendment rights,' " said Fullard.