What’s it like to answer in-depth questions about the U.S. Constitution in front of a panel of lawyers, judges and professors?
“It’s good, because we know what we are talking about,” said East Kentwood High School junior Destiny Lewis, who demonstrated her government savvy recently with her teammates at a state competition in Lansing for We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution.
East Kentwood and East Grand Rapids high schools have quite a history of knowing what they are talking about when it comes to U.S. government. They’ve been standout participants in We the People competitions which challenge students to give mock congressional testimony to exhibit their knowledge.
The 34-member East Grand Rapids High School placed first of 12 schools at the Lansing competition and is the only Michigan team advancing to national finals April 25-28 at George Mason Universityin Fairfax, Va., and in hearing rooms on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
The much smaller 13-member East Kentwood High School placed second. The Potter’s House Christian School in Wyoming, and Hudsonville High School also competed.
A Big Rivalry
After devoting countless hours to studying, researching and working with coaches who include attorneys and judges, the teams annually place very well at the state competition. Both have made the top 10 at national finals in previous years.
East Grand Rapids has placed first in the state 10 of 14 years under the direction of government and economics teacher Janice Yates, who runs the program as an elective semester-long class.
East Kentwood has the longest running program in the state, at 27 years old, and has won the state competition 14 times. It is led by teacher Hillary Baker as part of her AP government class.
Almost always finishing “neck and neck,” the teams are big-time rivals, but students agree on a few things about taking part in the intense competition that could make even a seasoned lawyer sweat.
It Changes How They Think
The Center for Civic Education program, which tests students’ knowledge on everything from foundations of the American political system to current challenges of democracy, has motivated them to become better informed citizens. It helped them develop skills that will have an influence on the rest of their lives.
“At the beginning of the year, the Constitution seemed far away,” said East Grand Rapids High School junior Ethan Poortenga. “This class really taught me how it affects our lives a lot, and how it’s always changing, every day, through court cases.”
“When I actually become of age where I’m able to vote and voice my opinion, that’s going to be something I do based on research,” said East Kentwood High School senior Lea Mavar.
Teacher Yates said the benefits of the program are huge. Students learn public speaking, writing, analytical and critical thinking skills, plus teamwork. “It just teaches them so many things outside of the knowledge. It brings everything together that they’ve studied their whole lives,” she said.
The East Grand Rapids team is focused now on raising $80,000 to attend the national finals.