Kentucky Court of Justice
Highlands High School is state champ in We the People competition for 6th year in a row
FRANKFORT, Ky. -- For the sixth consecutive year, Highlands High School in Fort Thomas has won the state championship in the We the People … The Citizen and the Constitution civic education competition. The Highlands High team prevailed over two other high schools at the state competition March 1 in Frankfort to earn the honor of competing for the national title in Arlington, Va., and potentially Washington, D.C., from April 24-26.
Ohio County High School from Hartford took the runner-up position in the state civic education competition for the sixth year in a row.
Highlands’ winning team members are Alexis Abanto, Spencer Bankemper, Scott Behler, Carter Botto, Austin Collinsworth, Daniel Fennell, Taylor Gross, Skyler Hewins, Michael Lewis, Gracie Lynne, Andrew Mershon, Emma Mitchell, Caleb Moore, Mollie Ohearn, Chase Pendery, Emma Ploucha, Hunter Schlosser and Jennifer Schweitzer. In individual awards, the team selected Pendery as its Best Presenter and Best Overall and team member Lynne as its Best Researcher. The team’s teacher/coach is Megan Boimann-Hennies.
At the national competition, the team will participate in hearings for two days in Virginia and, if it is among the 10 teams with the highest cumulative scores after those two days, will advance to the finals on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on April 26.
The state competition, which took place at Kentucky State University’s Hill Student Center, hosted three teams that had advanced from the district level –
Highlands High School, Ohio County High School and Owen County High School from Owenton. This was the first time that Owen County High School competed in the state competition.
Circuit Judge David A. Tapp, who judged the state competition for the first time this year, said he was encouraged by the efforts of all the teams.
“We are often confronted with glaring examples that many are not only uninformed about basic constitutional precepts but also simply don’t care about the working of the greatest democracy ever envisioned,” said Judge Tapp, who serves Lincoln, Pulaski and Rockcastle counties. “It is encouraging to observe so many young adults who are committed to the future of our country to such a degree that they have devoted great time and effort to comprehending and mastering the developments of constitutional law. The We the People competition is a success for the individual students who participated as well as a benchmark for Kentucky’s educational efforts and a welcome promise of informed future leadership.”
Ohio County team members are Nick Bratcher, Cate Brown, Callie Critchelow, Shelby Embry, Rains Evans, Brandie Hagerman, Hope Hines, Coty Jones, Haley Miller, Morgan Miller, Doug Muir, Maddi Rise, Leslie Rusher, Davis Sandefur, Michelle Schroader, Caleb Travis and Mahaleigh Wheatley. In individual awards, the team chose Muir as its Best Presenter, Sandefur as its Best Researcher and Bratcher as its Best Overall. The team’s teacher/coach is Hillary Wise.
Owen County team members are Elizabeth R. Anderson, Emily K. Clark, Mattie C. Cook, Rachel L. Dauwe, Brittany N. Davis, Rianna J. Gayheart, Gray T. Grisham, Sarah K. Haines, Simeon P. Hazlett, Victoria C. Howard, Mary R. Kennedy, Austin R. Patterson, Amber M. Patton, Darian L. Polley, Brittany N. Rexroat, Josie R. Sizemore and Lindsay A. Slayback. In individual awards, the team selected Grisham as its Best Presenter, Cook as its Best Researcher and Kennedy as its Best Overall. The team’s teacher/coach is Kevin Webster with Assistant Coach Kelli Storm.
Approximately 150 people attended the competition, including the team members. Two other teams that were originally scheduled to compete canceled because their participation would have required a day away from classes and they already had a number of inclement weather days to make up.
Ohio State Rep. Cliff Hite was the guest speaker at the event and was a competition judge. Rep. Hite is a former Danville, Ky., resident and graduated from the University of Kentucky. Deborah Williamson, executive officer of the Department of Court Services for the Administrative Office of the Courts, and Jacindia Wells, an AOC special project coordinator, presented trophies and other awards to the students at a banquet after the competition.
20 years of We the People
We the People … The Citizen and the Constitution is a nationally acclaimed civic education program for high school students that the national Center for Civic Education in California created to promote the history and philosophy of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The Kentucky Court of Justice and the Center for Civic Education are co-sponsors of the We the People … The Citizen and the Constitution program for Kentucky. The AOC, the operational arm of the Kentucky Court of Justice, administers the program. This year marks the 20-year anniversary of the AOC’s participation with the We the People program and the 17th year for the state championship hearing.
“I appreciate the effort Deborah Williamson, her staff, the congressional district coordinators and all of the volunteer judges made to ensure a quality competition for the Kentucky high school students,” said Robert Leming, national director of the We the People … The Citizen and the Constitution program. “I especially appreciate the active role the Kentucky courts play to support the program in Kentucky. In addition, the time and effort that teachers and students have devoted to the study of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights always amazes me. It is heartening to know that these young people are our future active citizens and leaders.”
In addition to Judge Tapp and Rep. Hite, judges for this year’s competition were Egbunam Amadife, professor of behavioral and social sciences for the University of Kentucky; Minerva Cruz, assistant professor of public administration for Kentucky State University; Patrick Keal, special assistant to the secretary, Office of Secretary of State Trey Grayson; Gashaw W. Lake, dean/professor in the College of Professional Studies for Kentucky State University; Adam Matz of the American Probation and Parole Association for The Council of State Governments; attorney S. Ryan Newcomb of Johnson, True & Guarnieri; Dr. Janna R. Pathi, chief medical officer for Ohio County Hospital; Campbell County District Court Judge Gregory T. Popovich; Senior Judge Marc I. Rosen; Buck Ryan, associate professor of journalism for the University of Kentucky; and AOC personnel.
Judge Popovich has served as a competition judge for each of the 17 championship hearings. He has also served as a judge at the national finals for seven years and is scheduled to do so again this year.
“The We the People Program is the most important civic education outreach effort administered by the Kentucky Court of Justice,” Judge Popovich said. “Given that civic education has been marginalized in recent years, taking a back seat to science, math and reading, this program ensures that young people will know who we are and why we exist as a democracy. Judges and lawyers are scholars of the constitution, law and legal processes; we are in a prime position to ensure that future generations possess the knowledge, skills and attitudes to perpetuate the democratic principles and values that we hold dear.”
Like Judge Popovich, four educators involved with the student teams have a long-standing connection to the We the People program. From Ohio County, high school Principal John Stofer has participated in the program for 14 years, starting when he was a social studies teacher, and teacher/coach Wise is a former We the People student. Highlands Principal Brian Robinson is in his ninth year of involvement with the program and he, too, began coming to the competitions when he was a social studies teacher. Teacher/Assistant Coach Storm from Owen County High School was a We the People student at Ohio County High School.
We the People program
After completing a semester-long course using We the People textbooks, a class may choose to compete as a team in mock congressional hearings on the district and state levels. The class, working in cooperative teams, prepares statements and uses them to testify before a panel of community representatives (competition judges) who act as congressional committee members. Students then answer questions posed by the committee members. The format requires them to use their understanding of constitutional principles to defend positions on historical and contemporary issues. An entire class must compete. The class divides into teams of three to five students each, with each team making one of six presentations. The competition judges independently score the performances in each presentation. The high school with the highest overall score for all six presentations is declared the winner. The student teams are judged on understanding the concept, constitutional application, reasoning, supporting evidence, responsiveness and participation.
We the People … The Citizen and the Constitution is funded by the U.S. Department of Education through an act of Congress and administered by the Center for Civic Education.
The AOC in Frankfort supports the activities of 3,800 court system employees, including the elected offices of justices, judges and circuit court clerks. The AOC also executes the Judicial Branch budget.