While most students begin their day with math, English and history, Challenger Middle School’s mock congressional team discusses constitutional rights and democracy.
The team, part of the “We the People” civics program, plays the roles of Congress members and judges as they describe examples of countries that have non-constitutional governments, debate whether it’s legitimate to put limits on citizen rights and tackle other topics.
The students have emerged as some of the most civic-minded middle schoolers around, winning four of six categories at the “We the People” National Invitational last May in Washington, D.C.
They are hoping to return to Washington this year and rack up similar results, but they need to overcome a financial obstacle to do so.
Challenger’s mock congressional team has raised $16,000 but needs to reach $40,000 to travel to George Mason University for this year’s invitational.
The event is April 4-8.
Last year the group raised almost $23,000, including $9,000 in the two weeks before the trip, in order to attend the competition.
The team has a bigger fundraising goal after it expanded from 12 to 25 students this year, said team adviser Norma Higuera-Trask, who teaches social studies, English and history at Challenger.
So far, various organizations have donated money, including the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, the Sunnyside Foundation and some local attorneys, she said.
“We the People” allows students to demonstrate their understanding of the U.S. Constitution, congressional committees and procedures associated with hearings.
They are required to know the Bill of Rights, how bills are passed and landmark Supreme Court cases.
The students must also refer to current events when proving their points during the simulated hearings.
“There aren’t many people like me and my classmates who know these Supreme Court cases,” said Patrick Robles, 12, a seventh-grader who is team president. “We need more concerned citizens who know what’s going on with our government.”
The competition is an opportunity for the students to apply what they’re learning, said eighth-grader Jose Denogean, 13.
“It’s important because it actually brings what you’re learning to life,” Denogean said.
Although the students may have limited resources, some are eager to prove that they’re just as knowledgeable as their peers around the country.
“We can go up there and do just as good or even better than they can,” said Victoria Polanco, 13, also in the eighth grade. “For us, it’s a privilege.”