Howard Beach teenagers Stefania Lessen and Halle Fitzgerald are heading to the nation’s capital.
No, they’re not new members of Congress — at least not yet. The Forest Hills High School seniors are going to Washington, DC to compete in the national finals of the We The People competition from April 26-29.
Stefania and Halle won the state competition in Albany on Jan. 12 and will be part of a team of 35 students from New York that will represent the state in the finals — only the second time in the competition’s 25-year history that a New York City school will represent the state.
The girls said they found out about the competition through the program’s alumni who promoted it at their school.
“They came around to our AP class and recruited,” Stefania said. “Anyone who signs up for it has to write an essay and interview. We were interviewed by alumni of the old ‘We The People’ class. They just make sure you have an interest in government.”
Halle said she and Stefania both have the encouragement of acquantainces they knew who had taken part in the program before.
“We had a lot of friends in the class who loved it,“ she said. “We thought it would fun.”
Both girls said politics and government was a topic that had interested them for a while and were excited to take part in the event.
“They divide us into units,” Stefania said. “As a unit, you’re given three different speech questions and prepare speeches for all three.”
As part of the competition, they are asked questions on one of the three prepared topics. But in the national finals, the girls said they will have to answer questions and give speeches on all three topics they are assigned.
Some of the events in the national finals will be held in actual Congressional hearing rooms on Capitol Hill.
For both girls, the competition came at a rough time. Their homes in Howard Beach were both hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.
“I needed something to keep my mind off what was going on at home,” Stefania said. “I mean at certain points it was stressful. It was a necessary distraction.”