LPS students win state, will compete nationally with constitutional knowledge
Lincoln Public Schools students received positive verdicts for their knowledge of the United States Constitution at a statewide contest.
High school teams from East, North Star, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest took part in the “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution” competition Dec. 18. A team from East won the state title and Southwest students earned runner-up honors.
Both groups qualified for this spring’s national We the People contest. The national finals will be held April 13-15 in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Leesburg, Va.
LPS K-12 Social Studies Curriculum Specialist Jaci Kellison said she was proud of the work local students did at this year’s state event, which took place at the University of Nebraska College of Law. Ryan Salem led two Southwest teams and Kevin Rippe (East), Dave Nebel (Southeast), Jace Ahlberg (North Star) and Danna Moore (Northwest) each coached one team.
All groups were filled with students from senior-level AP Government classes except for Northwest, which had a roster comprised of sophomores. Southeast, North Star, Northwest and Southwest’s second team earned honorable mention awards for their efforts. Northwest made the school’s first trip to state.
“The We the People program provides students with the opportunity to consider multiple perspectives about important constitutional issues,” Kellison said. “Students learn how to research, prepare a statement and engage in civil dialogue with peers. During the competition, students showcase their skills in front of many professionals in the field, including judges and attorneys.
“The knowledge, skills and experience they gain through engagement with the program empowers students to be informed and active members of their community.”
The 2023 results duplicated the strong performances of LPS teams in previous years. East students won 15 state titles from 2005-22 and Southeast squads claimed two championships in that timespan.
The Nebraska State Bar Foundation (NSBF) sponsors the annual event, which is based on a national program developed by the Center for Civic Education. NSBF representative Pam Carrier said she was impressed with how Nebraska students performed at state.
“Each year, I am gratified to see the competency and excellency of all the students participating in the We the People competition,” Carrier said. “All of the individuals who judge the hearings of each of the school teams comment on the high quality of their knowledge, critical thinking and presentation skills. I have judges who come back year after year because they see the value of the We the People program to each student who participates.”
Carrier said it was essential for students to learn about constitutional issues both for personal and public reasons.
“I cannot think of anything more important for democracy in America than having students who understand the history of the Constitution, its provisions, its interpretations, how it is applied and how it affects the country and their future,” Carrier said.
We the People students take part in a simulated hearing of Congress. They explain their knowledge of constitutional democracy to judges who act as U.S. representatives and senators. Volunteer judges have included Nebraska Supreme Court justices, college and university professors, high school teachers and current and retired attorneys.
Teams in the 2023 contest answered questions about six main themes. These included the philosophical and historical foundations of the American political system, how the Founding Fathers created the Constitution, how the Constitution has been changed over the years, how the document has shaped American institutions and practices, what personal protections are in the Bill of Rights and what challenges the American constitutional democracy system might face in the future.
Students used many reference materials to prepare a four-minute opening statement about each theme. They were allowed to read from their notes during their initial presentations. They had to include text from the Constitution, illustrate real-world impacts of constitutional principles and reference key events or influential figures in American history.
Judges then asked teams relevant follow-up questions for six minutes to gauge their level of knowledge about each topic. Students could not use notes to respond to the follow-up questions.
Judges used a scoring rubric to rank teams. They evaluated both the prepared presentations and impromptu follow-up responses by students.
Students and coaches celebrated Rippe at this year’s event. Everyone in the room applauded after Carrier honored him on behalf of the NSBF. Rippe has led East teams at We the People contests for more than two decades. He is currently a grant coordinator for the Promises Project in the LPS Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment.
Carrier felt the country’s future was bright because of what she has seen LPS students accomplish at We the People events.
“For all these students, they have a competency level on history and the Constitution that would rival many adults,” Carrier said. “I see the future of democracy in the ability of these students to ferret out the facts and develop their opinions.”
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Published: January 17, 2024, Updated: January 17, 2024