National program promoting civic education gives high school students opportunity to share knowledge of U.S. Constitution
here's a lot to see in Washington, D.C. Twenty three Polson High School students recently got a chance to soak it all up through the Center for Civic Education's "We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution" program.
The Bill of Rights program was established in 1987 to commemorate the bicentennial of the Constitution and promote greater civic education among the nation's youth. Students who participate in the program are given questions dealing with constitutional law and research them in-depth. They then present a prepared response to the question to judges involved in government in some capacity, from congressional aide to judge to legislator. The judges then have a six-minute period in which to ask the students questions dealing with the topic to discover the extent of their knowledge.
The PHS team successfully navigated through state competition to gain a shot at the national contest. Airfare is covered by the program's congressional funding, but students were expected to come up with the balance of about $900 on their own, noted head coach Robert Hislop. Generous grants from community organizations such as Rotary, the tribal council, Salish Kootenai College, and many local businesses gave students a hand. Fund-raisers and out-of-pocket expenses put the team on a plane to D.C. on April 20.
While in the capital, students toured the Smithsonian, government buildings, and a variety of monuments during breaks in the competition. Both Montana senators held meetings with the group as well.
"Most of the groups competed very admirably," said Hislop, who teaches government classes at PHS. "When six units compete over two days, it's hard not to fall down a bit at some point," he said, adding that it had been a good season.
Hislop sees the class as very worthwhile. "It gets kids exposure into the government spotlight," he said. "There's documented proof that participants in the program vote at higher rates than normal and participate in government above average levels."
The students also felt that the trip - and the preparation leading up to it - were great ways to learn.
"I learned a lot about how the elected members of our political system help contribute to the common good," said senior Jason Weiss. "It was a very worthwhile experience."