Despite the challenges brought about by the 2011 tornado, a Joplin High School Constitution Team for the second year in a row will be among those in the “We the People” national competition in Washington, D.C.
“The tornado of last year destroyed virtually all of our resource materials,” said William Keczkemethy, a JHS teacher and the team’s coach. “It prevented us from having our springtime meetings. It prevented our students from being able to read their ‘We the People’ books over the summer. And on top of that, we had a number of students that had family issues going on over the summer. Even if they had the books, it would have been an uphill battle.”
The competition, which is held in a mock hearing format, tests students’ knowledge of the Constitution and its role as a living document, the Founding Fathers, current events and court cases. At the state competition in January, JHS students competed against eight other teams, said senior Derek Carter.
Some of those teams had to win their district events to compete at the state level, but the Joplin team didn’t. The team will represent the state of Missouri.
“We’re all really looking forward to the competition,” said Carter, who said he enjoys studying the balance of power in government. “It’s fun to go up against the best people in the nation and see how we line up and what we can do.”
Students cannot be on the team more than one year, which has added to the challenge, and they will have to answer different questions at the national competition than they did at the state level. Last year’s team won the state championship, and a division of the team won the national championship with the highest score in its unit, which set a high standard for this year’s team, said senior Siri Ancha.
“I’m nervous,” she said. “But at the same time, a lot of us are in it to win it.”
Students wrote letters to local businesses to raise funds for the trip.
“We are so thankful for the donations, and we raised more than we needed so now we have the privilege of spending money,” said senior Taylor Haddad, who has focused her study on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
The students also will have opportunities to tour the Capitol, and they might get to tour the White House, Keczkemethy said.
“We want to represent Joplin well and make everybody proud,” Carter said. “We’ve had a ton of people help us out and donate, and we really want to work hard for them and show them their donations weren’t for nothing.”
The students said they’ve enjoyed learning about how the government works in more depth.
“It really is important to know what your government is doing, how they’re doing it and if they have the right to do it,” Ancha said.
“I go crazy over case law. We always have to look up examples. You can’t just make a generalization; you have to have something to back it up. I always love looking at court cases. Where has the government overextended its power? Did the justices make the wrong decision? Was that decision fixed later on in time? Each case is a story in itself.”
Keczkemethy said he thinks JHS has had a team since the competition began in the late 1980s.
“Very few high school students are going to be professional writers,” he said. “You’re not going to get a lot of rocket scientists. Yet every single student coming out of high school has to be a citizen. I hope that through teaching and learning civics and through a program like ‘We the People,’ we get greater portions of students that really understand the history of our government, the function of our government and how politics works so they can make informed decisions.”
THE “WE THE PEOPLE” national finals will be conducted April 27 to May 1 at George Mason University and in U.S. House of Representatives hearing rooms in Washington, D.C. More than 1,300 students and teachers from every state, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islandsstet are to attend. The program began in 1987.