APPSE Wins State


The excitement in the room was palpable as the Wauwatosa West APPSE students all sat on the edge of their seats, waiting for the final results to be called.

On Saturday, January 10th, the Wauwatosa West APPSE (American Public Policy Special Emphasis) class took first place at the state We The People competition. As a result, in April, they will be advancing to the national competition held in Washington D.C.

“The thing I enjoyed the most yesterday was seeing our unit perform professionally as a panel. Although we had our flaws at times, we also managed to pull it together and show what we knew collectively about our questions,” said current APPSE member Steven Ross.

APPSE, an American Government class, is offered only to juniors who made it past the audition to be in the class. APPSE hopefuls audition second semester of their sophomore year.

All Wauwatosa West students, in order to graduate, must take an American Civics class. APPSE students take this class instead of the usual American Public Policy (APP).

The class is split into six different units. Each focuses on a different aspect of American constitutionalism. The unit does a lot of research in order to prepare answers to three questions the judge will potentially ask them during the competition. The judges pick two out of the three questions and have the students present on the chosen questions. The competition also consists of prepared four minute oral statement and six minutes of follow-up questions after the two original questions.

Photo courtesy of APPSE parents
Photo courtesy of APPSE parents

The training for APPSE is very intense, and it takes hours of preparation to be ready for the state competition.

“I think the hardest part of APPSE is having to deal with the knowledge in the back of your head that there’s a lot of stuff you can’t control. You don’t know which statement you’ll have to present and you don’t know what questions will be asked afterward. That aspect of the program is an exercise in mindfulness more than anything,” said current APPSE student Rick Sear.

The stress to succeed at state is high simply because the students wish to do well; however, they also have the knowledge of the last nine years of APPSE students making it to nationals.

“When you walk into Mr. Mateske’s room each day and you see 8 previous years’ worth of victorious memorabilia on the walls, you get that little sarcastic voice in your head saying, ‘No pressure,’” said Sear.

This pressure, however, was not necessarily a bad thing for the students.

“The streak encourages you to put in more and more effort to prove that not just you, but also your class can become state champions like the year before. In a sense it encourages myself to research more, read more, and participate more,” said Ross.

“I believe that we have been able to win the past nine years in a row because of the culture we have built here at West.  We won nine years ago in our first attempt and that was somewhat unexpected as we didn’t know what to expect,” said APPSE teacher Chad Mateske. “There has been an expectation of excellence and students, parents, and community mentors have rose to the occasion ever since.  Nobody wants to have the streak end on their watch.”

Not only did the knowledge of the previous years’ winnings not hurt this year’s current students; in fact, it helped build a stronger team.

“Personally, though, I think the fact that there was all that history reinforced in my mind: ‘Wow. This guy [Mateske] knows what he’s doing.’ I really trusted the system he’d laid out for us, because, quite simply, it works.” said Sear. “Before I even knew I was doing it, I’d be checking the current events, researching court cases, and skimming our statement on a daily basis. It’s pretty much magic.”

It seems that neither the stress, hard work, or high expectations deterred the Tosa West APPSE State champions. While APPSE is hard work, the students have tried to stay more focused on the positive aspects of what they are doing and accomplishing rather than just the workload.

“We live in a country where a surprising amount of power is placed in the people’s hands, and I feel like I’ve done my job if I’m able to pick apart current issues and make sense of what I can do as a citizen,” said Sear.

A huge benefit to any current APPSE students is the support and help given by the backstage crew: parents, former APPSE students, and the lawyers that volunteer their time to help the students revise their statements and research necessary information.

“The students that come through the system keep tabs on the current class each year emailing info they learn in college courses, coming back to help with practice sessions and coming to watch the State Competition.  Finally, the families are tremendous with their support of what we do and expose the younger siblings to the program building a feeling of community for the future classes,” said Mateske.

In fact, there were several former APPSE students in the audience at state this past weekend.

“I was really excited to see them succeed. I’ve been in their shoes so I know how much work it takes to get to nationals. It was fun watching them compete, because I was surprised by how much I remembered from last year when I was in the class,” said Aidan Gabriel, a current senior who was in APPSE last year.

While everyone involved did everything they could to make the students succeed and feel comfortable, there was no better help for the students than the other members of their unit.

“We’ve learned over time that this class requires a group effort and that without a link out of your five piece chain, you’ll fall to pieces,” said Ross.

The units weren’t always as close as they were by the time they got to state.

“Oh, lord. Our group dynamic has changed immensely from the beginning, especially since the day we were placed together. We went from the most awkward, silent group of kids, to the most rambunctious and energetic unit,” said Ross. Ross’s unit in particular has found ways to bond, including activities unrelated to American Government, such as “watching movies and having a guacamole contest.”

All research, writing, group bonding, and nerves led up to the state competition on Saturday.

“We were the first unit to present, you see, so we had to kick off the day with a bang. We had to become passionate about EVERYTHING, not just some things, and I think we did a really good job achieving that,” said Sear.

Photo courtesy of APPSE parents

With the State competition over, the Wauwatosa West APPSE team now set their sights on nationals.

“As for preparing for nationals, we have two weeks until national questions come out which means we get to catch up on other classes and take a breather. However, once nationals questions come out, it’s full throttle until the end (at least that’s what I’m told),” said Ross.

Making sure to stick with it is exactly what APPSE alumni suggest.

“I hope these kids don’t just accept a state win and give up, because I know these kids are all really smart and can do very well on the national level. I would also recommend that they try not to stress too much over it and burn themselves out, because they’re not going to do well in D.C. if they’re sick of it. Overall, just try to have fun with it and they’ll do well,” advised Gabriel. 

Photo Courtesy of APPSE parents
Photo courtesy of APPSE parents