Klahowya students prep for Constitution challenge

Katherine Britton (right) talks about judicial review as (from left) Abby Lewis and Tiana Frese listen. The juniors at Klahowya Secondary School practiced in class Tuesday for a mock congressional hearing competition set Friday.   - Kristin Okinaka/staff photo
Katherine Britton (right) talks about judicial review as (from left) Abby Lewis and Tiana Frese listen. The juniors at Klahowya Secondary School practiced in class Tuesday for a mock congressional hearing competition set Friday.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka/staff photo

Though many high school students — and even adults — can’t quote chapter and verse of the Constitution, junior Matthew Vanvleet of Klahowya Secondary School and other students in the Central Kitsap School District will show off their expertise in the country’s legal foundation in a competition Friday.

“It’s not as hard as you think,” Vanvleet, 16, said of learning the ins and outs of the U.S. Constitution. “Even though it was made a long time ago, it applies well today.”

Juniors and seniors from Klahowya Secondary School, Olympic High School and Central Kitsap High School will compete in We the People, a mock constitutional hearing Friday at Klahowya Secondary School to demonstrate their knowledge of the Constitution. A total of eight classes from the three schools will compete in the first congressional district level and the winner will continue at the state competition in January.

The winner of state will advance to nationals in May.

The whole concept of the Constitution is foreign to many high school students, who may be able to explain the intricacies of social networking on the internet.

“They think it’s a piece of paper from years ago and at first don’t understand what it’s all about,” said Jeff Kreifels, a U.S. history teacher at Klahowya Secondary School.

But after engaging them over the course of two months, their grasp of the country’s founding document has been strengthened.

Students are broken into groups ahead of time and each group will give a four-minute opening statement on a section of the Constitution, said Rob Neate, competition coordinator. All classes receive a set of questions from the Center for Civic Education under the U.S. Department of Education before the hearing. They however do not know which question they will be assigned in their opening statement until they are seated in front of the judges. After the opening statement, judges will ask follow up questions where students must respond on the spot. A panel of judges made up of community volunteers ranging from lawyers to a principal and a college student studying to be a teacher, will assess the groups’ performance and give final scores to the class as a whole.

“The unusual nature and charm of it is because these are normal classes of relatively random kids, you get a mix of talents and comments,” Neate said, comparing the difference to high school mock trial competitions where students voluntarily participate. For We the People, all students in the class will compete.

Kreifels will have three classes competing Friday. Having the students present in front of strangers in a competition forces them to delve deeper into the material rather than just memorizing parts of the Constitution, which is what would happen if they only studied the content for a few weeks, Kreifels said.

Among the challenges, many of Kreifels students struggle with the idea of common good — that people have to give up something for the benefit of everyone — in comparison to individual rights.

“I think that’s just a teenage thing,” Kreifels said. “They are in a time of life where they are the center of the universe.”

Vanvleet and his peers did a practice run for the hearing in one of Kreifels’ classes Tuesday. Groups gave their comments on the Fourth Amendment, judicial review and the founders’ views on rights and government. Although Vanvleet understands what is written in the Constitution, it does not mean he agrees with it all.

“The First Amendment is slightly abridged in school,” Vanvleet, said. “I talk a lot. I see it as a bit of a problem with freedom of speech.”

Washington state students have been competing in the mock congressional hearing of We the People since 1987. Last year a class from Central Kitsap High School advanced to the state competition.

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