East Grand Rapids students take honors at We the People competition near Washington, D.C.wphungerford
East Grand Rapids High School students earned recognition this week near the nation’s capital for their performance during the annual, We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution National Finals.
The team earned the right to compete at the national level after winning the top spot in state competition in January. The 30-member East Grand Rapids team took honors in the Central Region comprised of 10 states as the top scoring team outside the top 10 finalists in the competition, which organizers say is a worthy accomplishment.
During the three-day competition, students from 47 states were put to the test during mock Congressional hearings, during which panels of state supreme court judges, constitutional scholars, lawyers, public officials and We the People alumni challenged them to apply constitutional principles and historical facts to contemporary situations.
The competition was held at George Mason University in Fairfax Virginia, just outside Washington D.C.
“We have all these awards but by the time students get to this level, their knowledge of government probably eclipses that of most adults,” said Mark Molli, associate director of The Center for Civic Education, which sponsors the competition.
“Based on our experience, students involved in this program are far more likely to vote in elections, keep up with current affairs and participate in the political process,” Molli added. “Civic education works.”
Janice Yates who teaches a class at East Grand Rapids based on the We the People curriculum expressed pride in her students, especially after withstanding a particularly tough grilling on the philosophical and historical foundations of the American political system from a former Oregon state supreme court justice.
“They were poised and calm and handled it with such grace,” said Yates who teaches constitutional studies, an honors-level government class. “Afterwards the judge said she had just given them the highest compliment because she never would have gone after them like that if she couldn’t see they could handle it.”
The group was scheduled to return home late Tuesday after a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court, just one of many site-seeing adventures the trip allowed. Yates said her students were treated to a visit to the Senate floor by student Lauren Gallagher, a team member who also works as a Senate page.
The team also visited with Congressman Justin Amash, visited the Newseum and most of the major memorials.
“It’s impossible to understand how impressive these young students are unless you actually see them in action,” Yates said before boarding a bus to the Supreme Court.
“They are knowledgeable and able to weave together information from all of their studies into coherent arguments. The judges kept saying their knowledge level is well beyond what they see even in law school.”