We The People students share knowledge of the Constitution at district hearings


Howell High School We the People class participated in district hearings at the freshman campus on Friday, November 13.

We The People is taught by Ms. Shantry during 7th hour. This is Ms. Shantry’s third year teaching the class. The class of 22 seniors focuses on the U.S. Constitution and prepares students for the competitive hearings. The students began preparing for the hearings in September, near the beginning of the school year.

“[Students learn] constitutional law, its application, and contemporary and historical issues,” Ms. Shantry says. “This year, I did something a little bit different with them. I gave them a basic British and historical foundation using documents and I went more in depth with that than before.”

Students do not jump into preparation for hearings right away. Some time is taken to give students background knowledge on the Constitution and the history accompanying it, including different interpretations of the Constitution.

“You spend about the first week or two forming a general foundation for all the units,” student Haley Brewer says.

For the hearings, students are divided up and placed in a small group. Each group is then assigned a unit that deals with specific parts of the U.S. Constitution. Each group is responsible for researching and answering questions for their unit.

“Each unit is given three questions,” student Claudia Walter says. “We need to know the scope of information surrounding those questions.”

The students accumulate facts relating to their topics during class, and write out answers within their groups.

“The question that I got out of our group was about the strengths and weaknesses of the Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan, and the Great Compromise. So you research that, and then you write prepared statements to present to the state delegates and judges,” Brewer says.

There are time limits that the students must adhere to for the hearings. Students spend time editing and practicing their responses to questions to ensure that they are perfect.

“You speak for four minutes for each question,” Brewer says. “You write one prepared statement for each question. We don’t know which question they [the judges] will ask, which is why we prepare all three.”

Students must know more than just the answer to the question. Judges will ask additional questions to test students on the depth of their knowledge.

“We have six minutes of follow-up questions that could be about anything relating to the question,” Brewer says.

Based on the prepared statements and responses to follow-up questions, the students were judged on their performances at district hearings.

“They are judged on their ability to answer the question in regards to the Constitution. They are also judged on participation, and they have to use Supreme Court cases and interpretations to justify their answer,” Ms. Shantry says.

In order to perform well at the hearings, the class requires a great amount of effort and collaboration with classmates. Students often spent time with their groups outside of school to write their statements and practice answering follow-up questions.

“We’ll go up to the coffee house and do some research, or stay in the computer lab and do research,” Walter says.

Ms. Shantry also invests extra time in the class to assist her students.

“I research all the time,” Ms. Shantry says. “I attend conferences, and talk to other teachers of We The People from across the nation.”

Considering the deep understanding of the Constitution students must accumulate and the high degree of commitment from the students and Ms. Shantry, the We The People class is comparable in some ways to a sports team.

“I’m proud of Ms. Shantry for being willing to teach the class,” Principal Jason Schrock says. “She acts like a coach getting her students ready for the competitions.”

Clearly, We The People requires a great amount of determination and effort. Students definitely reap rewards from their participation in the class.

“It teaches you teamwork,” Walter says. “How to present your ideas in an organized matter, and how to manage your time wisely.”

The class does not only help students with time management or presenting ideas. It also benefits students by giving them the skills to tie constitutional issues to current events and problems.

“The class gives students a firm understanding of the Constitution and how it is still relevant today,” Mr. Schrock says.

Mr. Schrock enjoys watching the We The People class compete, and was able to see them at districts this year.

“The students don’t just answer the questions, but bring up a unique perspective. It becomes clear to the audience that they know what they’re talking about,” Mr. Schrock says. “There aren’t many other opportunities for students to show their knowledge to an audience of experts.”

There were certainly experts judging at districts, including a member of the House of  Representatives.

“What surprised me was that Representative Mike Bishop was there as a judge,” student Jordan Salmon says.

After Howell’s We The People students completed district hearings, they were able to use their recent performance to find their weak points.

“I think we did fairly well, but we need to improve on having some confidence, more background knowledge on the ratification process, and more eloquently explaining our facts,” Brewer says.

Ms. Shantry also has suggestions for her students as they set their sights on their next competition.

“The students need to focus on being able to articulate better their findings from their research,” Ms. Shantry says. “It’s not over. We have states on January 8th.”