Students in the We the People class for seniors at Tahoma High School started the school year as students taking a government class to satisfy a graduation requirement.
But now, the teens are Constitutional scholars and top competitors in the program’s mock congressional hearing events.
Last week, the team returned from Washington, D.C., where it competed in the national event representing Washington and finished 13th out of 51 teams.
This is a major accomplishment, according to the team’s teacher and advisor, Gretchen Wulfing.
“The students are very excited about the results of the national competition,” Wulfing said. She noted Tahoma won the Regional Award for Western States.
“Among the 10 western states, we were the best of the west,” she said.
Tahoma’s team earned the right to go to the national event by winning the state championship in February.
The competitions aren’t really debates. The work that goes into preparing for them is different, not to mention time-consuming. Students write essays, read, research and spend time discussing events and historical figures. Then the students try to connect the history to current events.
This is the culmination of a year-long process that requires the students to be motivated to spend a fair amount of time preparing in small groups outside of class on a regular basis.
At the start of the year, the students were divided into six groups, or units, covering philosophy, the founding fathers and the Constitution, Constitutional law and due process, and current events.
The teens meet daily in a class for which they get a grade but they are also a team that competes.
At the national competition, Tahoma students competed against classes from all 50 states and the Northern Mariana Islands during the three-day event by applying constitutional principles and historical facts to contemporary situations.
State Sen. Cheryl Pflug, who reprsents the Fifth Legislative District, which includes Maple Valley, formally recognized the students’ efforts during the legislative session. She also accompanied them to Washington, D.C., where, among other activities, they met with some of their state’s congressional delegation (Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Dave Reichert) and toured the room that housed the Supreme Court from 1810 to 1856.
““The students (participating in We the People) are getting an education that will affect their lives forever,” Pflug said. “It increases student participation in politics and government dramatically. In fact, 80 percent of the seniors in this program have registered to vote compared to only 37 percent of students from nonparticipating schools. This renewal of civic participation amongst our young people is critical to the future health of our system of government.”
In 2000, Tahoma placed fourth in the nation; in 2002, it won the Western Regional Award; and in 2003, Tahoma won the top Unit Two in the Nation award.
We the People is based on a course on the principles and values of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The program promotes understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizens in the United States’ constitutional democracy.
Staff writer Kris Hill can be reached at (425) 432-1209 (extension 5054) and firstname.lastname@example.org