Students using the We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution curriculum are challenged to delve into broad questions regarding the U.S. Constitution and present their arguments in a simulated congressional hearing at the district, state and national levels.
The northern Nevada district competition took place Saturday at the University of Nevada, Reno where competing students from Reed High School finished second overall, locking up a spot in the state competition on Feb. 2 of next year. The team from Spanish Springs High School notched two Unit Awards in only its third year competing in the We the People competition.
Mark Towell teaches history and government at Reed and coached his team to within eight points of Incline High School, which finished first. Towell said the eight-point margin left he and his team confident the state title is up for grabs.
“We are excited to know that we are very close and going to the state competition we are considering it winnable for any one of our (northern)schools,” Towell said, adding that the team showed poise during the competition. “Maybe the best part of their presentation, aside from all the knowledge they displayed, was the team spirit they displayed throughout the competition. There was a lot of positive energy for one another and a lot of support, and really keeping that respect and love for one another alive through the process helped.”
Reed's 14-member team will compete against eight other teams at the state competition held at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas. Reno High School will join Incline and Reed, representing District 2 against five southern Nevada schools, including Clark, Basic, Bishop Gorman and Canyon Springs high schools and Advanced Technologies Academy.
Brian Kelley led the Spanish Springs students in the We the People competition and said though the Cougars are new to the event, the team showed its best progress thus far.
“The competition went exceedingly well and we scored more points than we ever had before. We have been improving every year and this was the best so far,” Kelley said. “All of my kids were very happy and proud of their performances on Saturday. I am very proud of what they accomplished and very grateful for the parental and volunteer support we received in preparing for the competition.”
Kelley said the competition is divided into six fields of study and students from each team are divided into those fields to answer specific questions for each unit. Spanish Springs' team of 20 students captured the crown in Units 1 and 4, scoring highest of all nine teams on questions in those sections.
The State Bar of Nevada has been overseeing We the People since the early 1990s in hopes of inspiring students to become actively involved in Nevada law and politics, according to State Bar of Nevada Law Related Education Coordinator Kathleen Dickinson. “Brilliance” was the lone word she used to describe what would take place during the competition prior to Saturday’s event.
“The students are so good with correlating the U.S. Constitution with current events, whether it is social media or a recent Supreme Court decision or the Presidential Elections,” she said.
Students delivered a four-minute presentation on their particular unit question before fielding questions for six minutes in front of a panel of judges, Dickinson said. The curriculum poses challenges to students they simply cannot get from a standard class setting, according to Dickinson.
“We have found that students increase and improve their critical-thinking skills and the ability to be productive citizens. They become involved in law or politics, work for senators and choose careers with a much stronger sense of service,” she said. “We had one student who competed that lobbied their school for two years to get the curriculum in school. The students are so passionate and enthusiastic in how they are relating to the curriculum.”
Kelley said the We the People program brings positive discussion to the classroom and encourages students and teachers to collaborate. Though the class will read AP Government on a transcript, he said We the People offers much more than a simple Government credit.
“The curriculum is very student-centered, interactive and asks deep thoughtful questions and forces the teachers and students to delve deeper into the text to get deep answers,” Kelley said. “It is absolutely the best curriculum I have ever used and I really can’t say enough good things about it.”
Towell has used the We the People curriculum for several years at Reed and said because it is “driven by big-picture questions” it has the ability to expand students’ minds as they prepare their presentations before the competition.
“A regular class might have a thousand details going one-inch deep, whereas We The People takes the big ideas and goes a mile deep or deeper,” he said. “It engages the students in discovering these questions that are complex and have many sorts of answers about what Democracy is.”
For more information about the We the People competition, visit new.civiced.org/programs/wtp.