For the first time, East Bakersfield High School’s We The People team has been invited to Washington, D.C., for a chance to capture the national title. There’s just one problem — it's about $43,000 short.

East High’s team competed at the regional level this year in We The People, a civics project that organizes high school students into teams of experts to testify before a mock congressional panel on various topics.

East didn’t make it to state finals, but last week was awarded the Warren Burger Nomination, which grants admission to the national competition in April to select high-needs schools that performed exceptionally at their regional competition.

“It took about a month and a half to find out, and we were actually losing hope. We didn’t think we could make it because people from every state applied for it, and only one team is chosen,” said EBHS Senior Nataly Pulido, who was in her second period English class Wednesday when her coach texted the team with the news.

“I literally jumped out of my seat and showed it to someone and we all started screaming in front of everybody when we all realized we were going.”

The invitation marks the fourth Kern County high school to represent California in nationals since 1998, We The People State Coordinator Terri Richmond said. Centennial High School won that honor four times, in 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002; Stockdale went in 2000; and Arvin was selected as the first recipient of the Burger Nomination about four years ago.

"It's an honor," said Richmond, whose husband, David, started the program at East High in 1985 before leaving for Centennial High School in the mid-'90s. "We're just ecstatic to see it come full circle." 

But now, the East High team is scrapping to raise the money for lodging and flights to the nation’s capital for the competition April 21. That leaves it about 30 days to drum up the funds. The team is expecting $10,000 in commitments locally and will receive a $5,000 grant from the Center for Civic Education, which organizes We The People, Richmond said. 

Students are selling T-shirts, hosting a barbeque, asking community members for sponsorships and planning a carnival event to make up the shortfall, Pulido said.

They’ll have a yard sale Saturday at the East Bakersfield High campus from 7 a.m. to noon.

“They wanted to do a Donors Choose, but that needs district approval,” Richmond said, referencing a web-based donation site similar to GoFundMe that allows people to choose classroom projects and donate money to support them.

That approval could come Monday, when the Kern High School District board of trustees will decide whether to approve the out-of-state trip.

In the meantime, We The People coaches from across the county have been collaborating to help the team train, Richmond said. They've set up a Google Classroom account where students are submitting their opening statements to be critiqued, and are getting pointers from coaches that have led teams to nationals in the past. 

"It's a community effort," Richmond said. 

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