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Indiana middle and high school students compete in understanding U.S. Constitution

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — William Coffman watches as unit one of his class from Franklin Central High School present their take on U.S. Constitution concepts in front of a panel of judges inside a room at the Crown Plaza Indianapolis Downtown Union Station.

The senior’s team has been prepping since Oct. 29, after the regionals that they previously won. He’s not nervous at all and feels super confident about doing well for his group in the “We the People” competition.

Developed by the Center for Civic Education, “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution” is an instructional program that helps students master government, history and social studies topics. Students can showcase their knowledge and understanding through a built-in authentic assessment model: simulated legislative hearings.

During the hearing, students are judged on six criteria: understanding, constitutional application, reasoning, supporting evidence, responsiveness and participation.

“Mostly, it’s just trying to stay calm and thinking is there anything else I need to know,” Coffman said. “We’ve been studying together. So, it’s a group and there’s four people per group and we read the papers and have follow ups about the constitution, current events and what not.”

He said his favorite portion of the U.S. Constitution was Article 2, Section 4 discussing the impeachment process.

“It says they [President, Vice President and all civil offices of the United States] can be impeached for treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors and the high crimes and misdemeanors is obviously very vague, so we just always found that very funny,” Coffman said.

Among the group of four in unit one, Lily Kortepeter another Franklin Central High School senior said she was a little nervous presenting.

Their group focuses on natural rights vs the common good. She noticed that as time goes on, natural rights have changed throughout history. This included the way that people focus on themselves and community. Her favorite part of the U.S. constitution was learning about the amendment process.

“There are different ways for us to add to the constitution, repair or change things that aren’t necessarily right at this point and time and you can change things as time continues,” Kortepeter said.

Tim Kalgreen is the director of Civic Education at the Indiana Bar Foundation.

“Civic education is really important. It helps students understand how to be a productive citizen, understand our structure of government, but the skills that they also learn help them as life skills as well. They learn public speaking and critical thinking. They learn how to be able to add civic skills and civic attitudes to make a better community,” Kalgreen said.

Prior to, students have researched the history, philosophies, application and evolution of the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights and other founding documents. They then prepared their formal remarks and answered questions from the judges. Working in teams, students evaluated, took and defended positions on relevant historical and contemporary issues.

The event included over 900 students respresenting these 14 high schools: West Lafayette, New Palestine, Homestead, North Posey, Evansville North, Franklin Central, Hamilton Southeastern, Hobart, Fishers, Jasper, Castle, Sherpard Academy, Plainfield (Madison) and Plainfield (Hamilton).

Starting next school year, civics courses will be added to the state curriculum for 6th graders. Last year, state law passed the new curriculum to cover topics like the Bill of Rights, how elections work and requires the teaching of “essential ideas of constitutional government which include limited government.” The Civics Education Commission was created by the 2021 law and Kalgreen said their organization will be working with educators to make sure they’re confident in how they teach civics moving forward.

“We want to help showcase that our students understand not just civic knowledge or content of what’s going on, but they’re able to articulate it. The We the People program really helps students to understand that,” Kalgreen said.

The awards ceremony featured the Honorable Derek R. Molter, the 111th Justice in the Indiana Supreme Court as a keynote speaker.

The We the People program is nationally-acclaimed by educators and is aligned with the Indiana Academic Standards for Social Studies and English Language Arts.

The middle school portion of the event happened Monday and featured these schools: Brown County Middle School from Nashville, Carroll Middle School (Team Culbertson) in Fort Wayne, Carroll Middle School (Team Smith) in Fort Wayne, Castle South Middle School in Newburgh, Fall Creek Junior High School in Fishers, Fishers Junior High School, Helfrich Park STEM Academy in Evansville, Hobart Middle School, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School in Fort Wayne, St. Malachy Catholic School in Brownsburg, Sidener Academy in Indianapolis, Union Township Middle School in Valparaiso and Woodside Middle School in Fort Wayne.

Fishers Junior High School won the middle school portion of the competition.

Fishers High school won the high school portion of the competition, according to the Indiana Bar Foundation.