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South Jordan Journal

South Jordan Elementary students apply knowledge of constitution to today’s issues

Feb 07, 2022 02:44PM ● By Julie Slama

After the mock congressional hearing, Mayor Dawn Ramsey takes time to congratulate the students on their understanding of the government. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Have there been times when individual rights and the common good were in conflict? People sometimes disagree about what is best for all in the community; describe a situation and how do you think such disagreement should be settled? Suppose a small group of people in an audience gets angry with a speaker and tries to stop the person from speaking; who should the police protect?

These and other questions were answered by a South Jordan Elementary fifth-grade class as part of the “We the People” congressional hearing. The prearranged questions were posed by elected officials, school district leaders and others serving in the community, who, along with parents, served as judges for the students answering the questions.

“We the People” is part of a national curriculum where secondary students can compete at a state level, and high school juniors could advance to a national level. At the elementary level, the students compete at the school level.

These fifth-graders were able to delve deeper into the framing of the U.S. constitution and government after having a recent hands-on activity in the House of Representatives in the Utah capitol on presenting, debating, amending and passing mock bills.

“The timing of the two programs really coincided to give students a good sense of how and why our government works,” said their teacher Diane Witt-Roper. “It’s a good culminating activity.”

The mock congressional hearing begins with students competing on four different teams: Each team addressed a different unit they have studied in their textbook, with topics ranging from the purpose of government to the responsibilities of citizens.

At the congressional hearing, students present prepared statements before being questioned. 

For example, Team Washington talked about the need for a constitution and how people benefit from the common good.  Then they were asked if common good or individual rights is more important, and how can each person serve the common good? Each team had about 15 minutes to present as well as answer questions.

The judges – the mayor, the school board president, a school district administrator, the principal, a police officer and a state school board association president-elect – took note of their understanding and reasoning, their constitutional application, their supporting evidence and their responsiveness.

Principal Bev Griffith, who served as a judge for her second time, said she appreciates being part of this program.

“To be part of it is really fun – to see how much the students learn and apply reasoning to the questions that we asked,” she said. “They really had to learn it and they could bring in that experience they had at the legislature.”

Jordan Board of Education President Tracy Miller, who joined the students at the capitol and was a mock congressional hearing judge, said that these experiences broaden and deepen students’ knowledge.

“We the People is such a good program to help students understand how government works and apply that to what’s going on today,” she said. “They’re making connections and it was good to hear what their opinions are and to understand their thinking. For example, when asked about individual rights versus common good, they said we have to find the right balance for individuals and society and gave examples. So, it was impressive to hear them think through it and debate as it is something we have to face all the time.”

Current topics came up, from wearing masks and getting COVID-19 vaccinations to establishing and contributing to food pantries to freedom of expression.

Students addressed questions of voting, everything from should the voter age be changed, to voter responsibility, to Mayor Dawn Ramsey asking how to encourage more citizens to vote, citing the last city election only had 13,000 votes of the 48,000 registered voters, to which the reply was to make a YouTube video.

“I love getting a fifth-grade perspective about what leaders can do to get people involved and excite them,” she said. “They all have opinions and ideas, and good ideas. We need to remember just because they’re young, they shouldn’t be discounted. These students are smart. They acknowledged that the decisions that need to be made can be easy and hard. Every time I’m a part of this, I learn how passionate our students are about the government today, and I am reminded that they have an outstanding teacher and that we just have really good educators working hard to teach our kids. and how good our educators are.  I wish this program was in every school for every fifth-grader in America.”