This is the second year that We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution program has been integrated into teacher Wesley Wells’ Advanced Placement (AP) Government and Politics class at Stevensville High School. The program promotes civic competence and responsibility among the nation’s upper elementary and secondary students.
According to Wells, the program’s interactive strategies, relevant content and the simulated congressional hearing, make teaching and learning exciting for both the students and the teacher. Wells’ excitement and enthusiasm about the program is visceral and deep-seated.
The program was started by the Center for Civic Education, a thirty-year-old organization, and the high school where he taught early in his career, Centennial High School in California, was the site of a pilot program. He didn’t teach in the program, but he had students who went through it.
At his next teaching job, where he served as head of the department, one of his colleagues had been a student at Centennial and on the We the People team.
“I was in a position to support the program so we developed one there,” said Wells.
Although he didn’t teach in that program he was involved in a “sister” program called Project Citizen. In that program kids took on public projects in their communities and often worked with their local governments. They would evaluate the problem discovered in the community and look into alternative solutions. Then they would propose a public policy and come up with an action plan to address the problem.
When Wells arrived in Stevensville and took on the Government and Politics class, it was spread out over the whole year, which is two semesters, but the required curriculum only covered one semester. He saw an opportunity to integrate the We the People program into the curriculum. Wells said he saw the opportunity to do something really good for the students.
“It makes them very knowledgeable about the constitution,” said Wells, “which is important if we are producing effective citizens. And it is an academic competition.”
“It makes them better students and better citizens,” he said. He said studies have shown that students who take We the People perform better on AP exams. Stevensville’s AP exams occur in May. Wells said his students will be well prepared. [no pun intended]
Last year the Stevensville We the People team finished fifth in the state competition. He said the aim is to improve that status and move on to the national competition.
“It may not be this class, but in the next year or two, we will have developed this program’s depth so that students who come in here will be gunning for the nationals,” he said.
A dress rehearsal for the state competition in Helena this year is scheduled for January 3 at 6 p.m. in the Stevensville Choir Room. It’s a great opportunity for the community not only to support the civic education of its youth, but also maybe learn a few things themselves about how our government works and what the U.S. Constitution is all about.