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The City Journals

South Jordan Elementary Students Take Part in Mock Congressional Hearing

Feb 08, 2017 03:54PM ● By Julie Slama

Fifth-graders at South Jordan Elementary demonstrate their knowledge of the government and their rights and responsibilities in a mock congressional hearing. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Questions about the secret proceedings of the Constitutional Convention, why so many Europeans wanted to come to the colonies and why slavery wasn’t abolished during the writing of the Constitution were some of the questions that didn’t stump South Jordan Elementary fifth-graders during their recent mock congressional hearing.

The “We the People” congressional hearing on Jan. 13 involved students from Diane Witt-Roper’s class after they studied their text book, “We the People — the Citizens and the Constitution.”

“We studied the five units in the book and then divided the class into groups of five or six students to make teams for the competition,” Witt-Roper said.  “It’s a culminating activity where they can demonstrate what they’ve studied by each student giving a short speech, then answering questions by our four judges.”

Students, who were divided into teams named after early U.S. presidents, gave speeches in the areas of the purposes of government, the bill of rights and the Constitutional Convention, the three branches of government, freedoms and rights of citizens and the responsibilities of citizens.  Each team had about 15 minutes to present as well as answer questions.

Judges posed questions after the speeches to each group.  Judges included Director for the Utah Commission on Civic and Character Education Michelle Oldroyd, Jordan School District Gifted and Talented Specialist Rebecca Smith, South Jordan Elementary Principal Ken Westwood and School Resource Officer and Detective David Adams.

Some of the questions had the students relate subjects they learned and apply it to issues today, such as what are issues that people disagree in the community and how would it best be resolved, why would you choose today to move to America and what would inspire you, how does your school mission statement of safety, respect and responsibility relate to helping your school be a good school and how is our government different today than in the 1770s.

Throughout the contest, not only did the judges score the teams, but audience members were given a score card to evaluate each team in their presentations, constitutional application, supporting evidence and participation and responsiveness. 

“I gave them one sentence and from there, they were to write a speech that was a couple minutes long and memorize it.  We started in November.  This gave students a chance to get a rough draft of their speech done before we went off track Dec. 3.  They had one month before coming back to memorize their speech and review the book to prepare for questions.  The judges had about two weeks to prepare questions before the competition,” Witt-Roper said.

While Witt-Roper is new to South Jordan Elementary this year, she isn’t new to this program.  She held mock congressional hearings three years at Bluffdale Elementary.

She also said that in eighth-grade, students can participate in a statewide competition and in 11th grade, students could qualify to compete in a national contest.

Her South Jordan fifth-graders will take this one step farther, as she has applied for a grant to pay for bus transportation to take her class to the state capitol May 23 for “We the People” day.  There, they will tour the capitol, meet officials and watch hearings.

“It completes our study by seeing where Utah government meets and makes decisions,” Witt-Roper said.  “I don’t remember much from my social studies in fifth grade, so I’m hoping these activities — the competition bringing it together and the capitol seeing what they read about in action — help reinforce what they’re learning and give them a deeper understanding that will carry throughout their lives.”