WW-P pupils debate Constitutional law in Washington

History students take part in We the People competition.

By: Gwen Runkle
   For some, a weekend in Washington D.C. may sound like a good way to relax, but for a group of juniors and seniors from West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North, there was not a lot of time to take it easy.
   For three days, 32 students from history teacher Brett Charleston’s Institute for Political and Legal Education course took part in the national "We the People … The Citizen and the Constitution" competition, sponsored by the Center for Civic Education based in Los Angeles.
   In the competition, held May 4-6, students from teams across the nation presented a series of four-minute speeches on a variety of legal and political issues related to the Constitution and answered on-the-spot questions from a panel of judges, educators and lawyers.
   Mr. Charleston’s group won the state competition in February in just their first time competing and had high hopes of being victorious at the national level as well.
   But while the rookie team did not end up placing in the top 10 in the national competition, one of the six sub-teams that made up the school team did win an award for achieving the highest score in its unit and Mr. Charleston anticipates the group will ultimately be placed in the top 20.
   "For our first time, this was great," Mr. Charleston said. "The kids did really well and worked very hard. It was definitely a learning experience.
   "A lot of the kids were upset we didn’t make the top 10 and a lot of tears were shed," he added. "But if they didn’t care so much, they wouldn’t have been upset and it’s not often kids care about academics."
   And despite that disappointment, many of the students were happy just to have been able to participate.
   "I wanted to drop the class in the beginning of the year, because it was so tough," said Aly Griffith, a senior. "But Mr. Charleston convinced me not to and I’m so glad I didn’t."
   She said without the course she probably would still be uncomfortable speaking in front of groups and would not have the confidence she does today.
   "The course has definitely been helpful," she said. "Even if you don’t go into politics or law, you learn so many skills and it boosts your public speaking."
   Fellow senior Caroline Jaramillo also said the competition, while a bit "scary," was a lot of fun because they got to meet a variety of people.
   "We got to meet all kinds of people from all different parts of the country," she said. "And the panelists were very brilliant, too."
   She also enjoyed getting to see some of Washington’s many sights, including the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and the National Zoo.
   For next year, Mr. Charleston is hopeful he will have an equally dedicated and enthusiastic group of students for the IPLE course and the We the People competition.
   He anticipates an "alumni network" in which students like Aly and Caroline can come back to assist the new IPLE students and enhance the program by "giving them people to refer to."
   This year’s IPLE class was able to travel and compete in Washington D.C. thanks to the support of the school, parents and various funding sources including the New Jersey State Bar Association and the West Windsor-Plainsboro Education Foundation, Mr. Charleston said.