Parkrose High students ace Constitutional quiz

See why officials say these students gave other area high schools real competition this year, in our district’s “We the People” competition.

Parkrose High students Connor Leines, Caitlyn O’Mealy, Carmen Avram, Elizabeth Lee and Nathan Clement say they’re proud to have done well at the “We the People” completion. Richard English, their instructor and sponsor, stands behind them – and behind their sentiment.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
A couple of weeks ago, Portland Commissioner Nick Fish stopped us on our way to a press conference at City Hall. “Did you hear how well the students from Parkrose High did at the ‘We the People’ competition in mid-January?” he asked.

Fish got to witness the Parkrose students’ success first-hand; he was a judge at this year’s competition, which is organized by congressional districts. “Historically, Grant and Lincoln High Schools have taken the honors. This year, Parkrose High School students gave them a real ‘run for their money’.”

Grilled about the U.S. Constitution
The full title of the event, we learned, is “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution”, and it’s sponsored by the Center for Civic Education. It’s a yearly competition for American high school students across the country; finals are held in Washington D.C.

Parkrose High Government class instructor and team coach Richard English told us that the competition is modeled after a congressional hearing. “Each team is divided up into six units, each composed of three or more students. Each unit focuses on a particular area of Constitutional interest.”

Each unit, English explained, prepares three four-minute statements, or delivers a speech, on sections of the Constitution of the United States. At the competition, each unit presents one of their speeches.

Then, a three-judge panel questions the students to see how well they know their topic. “You have to know your part of the Constitution intimately,” explained team member Nathan Clement. “They asked you both a prepared question and non-prepared questions about it.”

Caitlyn O’Mealy added that when displaying knowledge of the First, Fifth and Sixth Amendments, “in addition to knowing your information well, we needed to be able to make persuasive arguments about the ideas we expressed.”

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, one of the teams three judges, says the Parkrose High students represented their school well. EastPDXnews file photo

Value beyond the contest
Other than enjoying abundant quantities of “great organic milk” at the competition – as Clement noted with a grin – which was held at Lake Oswego High School on January 12, the students agreed that the preparation for the contest helped prepare them for situations later in life.

“Before studying for the competition,” Carmen Avram chimed in, “I knew only a little about the Constitution. But after learning about the Bill of Rights and the other parts of the Constitution, I was able to apply these ideas to real life. It shows me how our society evolved and promoted equality among citizens.”

In addition to the learning about our Constitution, Connor Leines volunteered, “It was a good experience to be interviewed by professionals. Commissioner Fish and the other judges asked good, hard questions; learning how to give good answer back in an intelligent way helps us prepare for our future.”

Wins two awards
“Our students won two Outstanding Unit Awards,” noted English. “I’m very proud of our team members.”

“They did a fantastic job,” Fish commended. “That’s a huge accomplishment. The kids on the winning teams are just remarkable.”

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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