Wood students conquer the constitution
Thirty-six Wood Middle School eighth-graders, accompanied by 20-odd chaperones, didn't just compete in the "We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution Competition" last week; they left their
political mark in the nation's capitol, finishing in third place for all middle school teams.
In what could best be described as a competition of mock congressional hearings, the team of students was split up into six different units stemming from the textbook "We the People." Through their Wood Middle School academy class — an elective social studies course with a rigorous curriculum and student requirements — eighth-graders spent the year learning about the constitution and how it applies to current events in class during the day, while preparing testimony for the recent competition with volunteer coaches before the school day started.
Besides placing among the nation's best and brightest students, Wood students say the trip to Washington D.C. made all the hard work worth it. The team spent five days in the nation's capitol, touring a long list of historical monuments in between competition. They saw many government buildings, including where the House and Senate conduct business, as well as the Arlington National Cemetery, the Smithsonian, the National World War II Memorial, and even the outside of the White House.
"I would look at the trip as more of a chance to understand the backbone of our nation and the constitution. The competition was one of the smallest parts of the trip, because the touring that we did, we saw all the biggest memorials," said eighth-grader Chad Overholt. "There's so much to see and so much to learn that I think the actual competition that we've been preparing for is the smallest part we'll remember. All that learning about the constitution and the touring was more important."
"I think a lot of times (in the competition) we weren't asked questions on the things we learned in class, so the buildup to it was definitely extensive. We did a lot of work, learned current events and historical events, theories and bunch of other stuff, so it was cool to put that to daily life and compare it to daily life," said Sydney Burns. "The World War II memorial was really, really cool and stood out to me. It was super powerful to see."
Wood Middle School has sent a team to the We The People competition for the past five years, but had never placed in the top three before this year. Students credited their teachers, Matthew Bell and Linda Koller, as well as their six volunteer coaches who helped them prepare their testimonies. Each unit — comprised of six students — had four minutes to give testimony followed by six minutes of questions from professional judges. Wood students said teamwork played a big role in their third place finish, and their level of preparation was key in overcoming nerves when competition started.
"It was more intense than I thought it would be. Going into it I didn't think I would be very stressed or tense about the testimonies, but when we got to the venue the nerves started to come," said eighth-grader Max Wilson. "When we got testify and then hear the questions for your unit it was really fun, because you got to express your actual opinion and then go in depth with questions to further your own knowledge and learn from people who do this for a living."
Wood students also had the opportunity to meet with U.S. Congressman Kurt Schrader, who spent close to an hour answering questions.
"I really enjoyed talking with Congressman Kurt Schrader," Burns said. "It was really cool to ask him questions, and I had wondered what parts of our government would think about certain things, and to get him to actually answer those questions was cool to see his perspective and get answers to the questions we've been asking in class."
To be part of the academy class Wood students had to write essays during the summer and get teacher recommendations. In part because of the unique trip to Washington D.C., students said it's one of the more highly-sought after electives Wood offers, and added that they plan to continue their education on the country's government because of what they've learned this year as well.
"Personally, I wanted to join this class because I wanted to help my parents understand what's going on in the news and politics because my parents don't speak English that well," said eighth-grader Gabby Leon. "I wanted to help them become educated about their rights and what's going on in the country."
"For me I wanted to take on the challenge of the class, because what I had heard in past years was that it was really interesting and that you learned a lot," Wilson said. "I was enjoying social studies as a class, so I thought it was an appropriate extension. You get to learn different parts of the government, how it functions, and then connecting current events to that."
While Wilsonville High School doesn't compete in the high school portion of the We The People competition, students said graduating from middle school won't stop them from continuing their involvement with government. If anything, their experience this year has taught them how important a role citizens can play in their local and national government.
"A lot of times you'll hear the term 'unconstitutional' be thrown around. Politicians will say 'that executive order is unconstitutional' or 'that action is unconstitutional.' To actually be able to understand what is and what is not unconstitutional is really important. You can actually argue with the constitution, you don't have to go off your own opinion all the time, which is something I think is important in today's society," Overholt said.