James Steidl - Fotolia
For the last four years, Mililani High School’s Advanced Placement (AP) Government and Politics and U.S History teacher Jason Duncan has had his students participate in We the People. We the People is a national program that challenges students to take an in-depth look at the history and principles of the Constitution and Bill of Rights to gain a deeper understanding of the United States Government. On Saturday, February 6th, students participated in a mock congressional hearing addressing questions about the history of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, completely online.
“Well in essence, most of the preparation was very similar. They had to do the same types of things, they had to research their questions, they had to go in and kinda dive into what the meaning of the questions were, they had to find current events, historical topics, places in the Constitution that related. Now that things are different I think it required a little more independence, self direction because of a lack of class time. We only had two class periods per week, students either had to meet on their own or work on their own outside of class. Or work in class periods through breakout sessions or through informal communication like google docs, for example,” said Duncan.
The competition put students in front of a panel of accomplished judges who had ties to the Hawai’i State judicial system. They were separated in groups of approximately three to five students and had four minutes to present a written statement. Afterwards, the judges asked follow up questions about current relevant topics to which students must answer to the best of their ability. At the end, the judges give students feedback on what they did well and what things could be improved.
“The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The students for the most part came well prepared, they worked hard on their written statements and with the follow up questions, they were able to answer the follow up questions,” said Duncan.“So the feedback from the judges were typically things in regards to compliments and affirmations of what they did well. For the most part, they did very well and also in regards to having them recognize, knowing and understanding this kind of information is something that perhaps is not going to directly relate to the job that they do but is something that they will be empowered with as a citizen.”
One of the challenges of We the People during the pandemic, according to Duncan, is that there is only so much interaction in class that can happen with only two classes per week. Being online makes it harder to start discussions and conversations during breakout rooms which are set up during class. However, even though students this year didn’t get to experience We the People in person, the goal and purpose was still the same.
“They’re gonna have to present in front of peers and colleagues that they may not be entirely comfortable doing, it gives them that experience. I also think that sometimes what students know and understand is just confined to the boundaries of the classroom so as to where they don’t get to share actually how intelligent-how thoughtful and intelligent they actually are. So what We the People does is give them the opportunity to say student voice matters.” said Duncan.
Mililani High School has qualified for the national competition as a wild card team as they did an excellent job during the competition. Students also won four unit awards across periods in units one, three, four and six, respectively. Mr. Duncan says he’s proud of his students and their work, having to work through COVID-19 and all of the challenges that opposed them because of it. For more information about We the People, visit https://www.civiced.org/we-the-people