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We the People of Sanford Middle School

Featured Photo from We the People of Sanford Middle School

Sanford Middle School’s We The People team is a group of 29 civic-minded eighth graders who compete in various trivia and debate competitions about the history and function of the United States government. And if you’re going to show off your Constitutional knowledge, there’s only one place to go...

Sanford Middle School’s We The People team is a group of 29 civic-minded eighth graders who compete in various trivia and debate competitions about the history and function of the United States government. And if you’re going to show off your Constitutional knowledge, there’s only one place to go...

It wasn’t quite that easy, of course. To earn its spot in a recent two-day national invitational competition in Washington, D.C., the Sanford Middle School squad finished as the #2 We The People team in Florida.

The team performed well in D.C. In fact, students Taylor Randa, Madison Mandeville, and Shree Patel won first place in their unit, which involved a formal argument about the First Amendment.

The We The People program, now in its fourth year at Sanford Middle, is designed to promote civic competence and responsibility. The team includes students who have a passion and interest in political science, law studies, debate, and civic involvement. The We The People club meets once a week during homeroom with team sponsor and civics teacher Jennifer Coursin.

“Having a designated period of time during the school schedule allows me to gather the most passionate, civic-oriented students on campus all in one room and take them to another level,” says Jennifer. “That normally does not happen in a regular classroom environment. My job is to channel their interest while allowing 

them to see multiple perspectives on an issue and to spark  social innovation.”

Weeks before the national competition, students arrived before school, stayed after school, worked during lunch, and took any opportunity they could get to hone their presentations.

“Whenever we were not fundraising on the weekends, we could be spotted at Panera for Saturday work sessions,” says Jennifer. “We also reached out to local community members to help students with public speaking and debating tips after school.”

At the state and national competitions, teams are divided into six units, with each unit focusing on a different Constitutional issue. Topics can range from how the views of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists changed over time to how America’s perspective on immigration has evolved. Students must present a three-to-four-minute oral argument on the topic and answer randomly-chosen questions related to their units.

In addition to competing against top students throughout the nation, the trip provided students with a full Washington, D.C., experience – not that this group was there to paint the town, however.

“While most kids their age would love the freedom of being in a hotel without their parents, these kids would stay up late in the lobby fine-tuning their presentations,” Jennifer recalls with a laugh. “Over the past two years, I have watched these students grow and develop the foundation of who they are. I have found that they have developed a new lifestyle because of the club, especially in their taste of TV shows and movies. Often, many members of the team come to my class for lunch instead of the cafeteria, and I love overhearing them talk about this week’s episode of Designated Survivor or how they started watching Parks and Recreation and talking about their views of local government.

“When I was their age, I wasn’t exposed to these topics until my senior year of high school in AP government, and now I hear 14-year-olds talking about how they want to be a lobbyist when they grow up.” 

And though she has taken groups of students to D.C. in the past, Jennifer says this trip was different. 

“Every place we went to was meaningful to the students, and they soaked in every experience,” she recalls, noting that the most memorable part of the trip was at Arlington National Cemetery, where her students had the opportunity to personally thank a group of World War II, Vietnam, and Korean War veterans. 

“Thanking them for their service after watching the changing of the guard brought me – and many of the students – to tears,” says Jennifer.

The Washington, D.C., trip not only left a mark on Jennifer and the team, but it also made a big impression on other students and administrators at Sanford Middle. The We The People program has evolved from being an after-school club to a homeroom program that gives students the opportunity to earn credit for a legal studies elective course. Last year’s seventh-grade civics students have already applied and have been selected for next year’s We The People team, and the students are already eagerly discussing plans for next year’s competition. Jennifer is also researching new programs for the team such as a mock trial and moot court.

Washington, D.C. – here they come again!

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