Laramie High School students — along with five other schools around the state — competed in the We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution State Finals at the Hilton Garden Inn and University of Wyoming Conference Center on Monday.
The competition rigorously tested student knowledge on a variety of constitutional topics, including the Bill of Rights and the philosophical and historical foundations of the American political system.
The competition featured 12 rounds where six different units — consisting of teams of three or four students — had the chance to read an essay and answer any questions on the designated topic from the judges.
Molly Bress, a junior with Laramie High School who competed at the event, said while presenting the essay was a little easier due to having more time to prepare, the judges’ follow-up questions could be tricky.
“Their questions either came off of what we said in our [essay] answer or what has already been given to them as questions they can ask based on the topic,” Bress said. “They can give you a real curve ball, and you’re just sitting there thinking, ‘I need to come up with something.’”
The judges’ questions were very in-depth and required well-rounded knowledge of the topic beyond what was said in the student essays. Matt Strannigan, state coordinator for We the People, said a teacher told him three questions for one topic was more like 11 questions when considering the amount of knowledge the students needed to give a complete answer.
“It takes a lot of dissection, it takes analysis, it takes research,” Strannigan said. “They have to write an essay and do rewrites, and then they have to defend it; so, they have to have deeper understanding and knowledge.”
Each unit was presided over by three judges, which included area teachers, professors at UW, former legislators and former We the People competitors. LHS competed against schools around the state, including Jackson High School, Sheridan High School and Green River High School.
Although Laramie narrowly placed sixth at the state competition and won’t be moving on to the national competition later this spring, Bress said she enjoyed the process, especially diving in deep into constitutional interpretations. She added the process helped her realize many people decide their views or beliefs while having certain “misconceptions” about what is in the constitution.
“The constitution, one of the most beautiful parts of it, is that you can tear it apart and take multiple stances on a certain thing,” Bress said. “I think it’s very important just to be an educated citizen, to understand the constitution is not one certain right answer; it has multiple views.”
She added the competition and preparing for it in her class with her teacher, Meaghan Todd, helped her form her own viewpoints as she heard different constitutional interpretations from a variety of people.
Strannigan also said part of the importance of the competition is to help students form political views independent from what the mainstream media or their parents may tell them.
“We need to be consumers of information ourselves and have an understanding of all the protections that we’re guaranteed,” Strannigan said. “We always talk about our rights, but more important than that is our responsibilities that go hand in hand with those.”
While Laramie didn’t move on to the national competition, Unit V — consisting of Tony Trent, Allison Dodds and Samantha Hook — was recognized as the best-scoring unit from LHS to present.
Strannigan said no matter the outcome, the important thing was to get students civically involved.
“The ultimate reward is probably not to the kids but what goes to us, because hopefully then these guys are running for office and they’re our next generation of leaders,” Strannigan said.