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K-State Today

February 14, 2017

College of Education hosts record-breaking 'We the People' event

By Patrice Scott

Blue Valley Northwest High School wins the state 2017 "We the People" competition.

A two-day civics and government competition sponsored by the College of Education for middle and high school students drew the largest number of participants in the event's 30-year history.  

Blue Valley Northwest High School, led by government and AP government teacher Ken Thomas, won the "We the People" competition. According to event organizers, of the nine high schools participating and 1,600 points possible, only two points separated two of the top three teams. Emporia High School took second place, and Abilene High School placed third. Sara Christensen with the Johnson County First Amendment Foundation presented Blue Valley with a $5,000 check to help pay for the team's travel expenses to the national "We the People" competition this spring in Washington, D.C.   

Robinson Middle School in Wichita, led by Michelle Rowley, won the middle school competition and only 40 of the 1,200 possible points separated the top three teams.   

The event was Feb. 6-7 and was organized by College of Education faculty members Brad Burenheide, associate professor of curriculum and instruction, and Thomas S. Vontz, professor of curriculum and instruction and director of the Center for Social Studies Education.   

"The students were impressive, making reasoned arguments about critical constitutional issues and connecting constitutional ideas to historical and current events," Vontz said. "This kind of intelligent, mature, and civil discourse about our similarities and differences has been and will continue to be an important marker of the health of our republic. This doesn't happen accidentally and requires deliberate attention to help 'We the People' thoughtfully engage the ongoing debates about the meaning and application of constitutional ideas. Brad and I applaud the teachers of these ideas because they are on the front lines of attempting to keep our experiment in self-government vibrant and healthy."

"Being involved with this 'citizen growing' event is one of the finest blessings of my professional career," said Blanche Wulfekoetter, a high school teacher from Jefferson West High School. "I take usable content away each and every time we gather. I was blown away by Junction City's first-year performance at state! What a blessing to watch these students testify and respond to big idea questions. Then I was struck the next day by the high level of critical thinking the middle school students showcased. Truly, I was amazed. This is exactly the kind of hands-on education that sticks with students far beyond their years in school."  

Burenheide and Vontz said the volunteer judges were impressed with the event. The judges were teachers, K-State education students, and actual judges from the state who volunteered their knowledge and time to evaluate the performance of the students. 

The "We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution Program" promotes civic competence and responsibility among the nation's upper elementary and secondary students. The "We the People" printed textbook's and Enhanced Ebook's interactive strategies, relevant content and the simulated congressional hearing make teaching and learning exciting for both students and teachers. The program enjoys active support from state bar associations and foundations, and other educational, professional, business and community organizations across the nation. Since its inception in 1987, more than 28 million students and 75,000 educators have participated in the "We the People" program. 

The high schools and their sponsoring teachers in the competition: 

  • Blue Valley Northwest in Overland Park, Ken Thomas.
  • Hartford High School, Lewis Whitson.
  • Valley Heights High School in Blue Rapids, Lew Whitson.
  • Abilene High School, Janeal Barry.
  • Emporia High School, Jamie Dawson. 
  • Northeast Magnet School in Wichita, Brittany Herod. 
  • Humboldt High School, Eric Carlson.
  • Natoma High School, Ben Swenson. 
  • Junction City High School, Reina Cruz.

The middle schools and sponsoring teachers in the competition:  

  • Fort Riley Middle School in Geary County, Stephanie Staley and Alli Ronnebaum.
  • Hamilton Middle School in Wichita, David Pines and Earnest Robinson Robinson Middle School in Wichita, Michelle Rowley.
  • Wamego Middle School, Adam Topliff. 

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