‘Know Your Constitution’ takes 10 Cedar Falls finalists
By Sophia Schillinger on January 27, 2017
The Cedar Falls schools have been attending the “Know Your Constitution” conference for many years. Kevin Kuker, U.S. history teacher at Holmes Junior High, has attended the conference for four years, and each year he has taken at least one student to Des Moines. In his first few years, very few students in his classes were finalists, so he was driving down one or two. This year 10 students made it in, and four were driven down by Kuker, and three were driven down by the Peet history teacher. Kuker was also fortunate enough this year to have one of his students, Devin O’Loughlin, selected for the educational trip to Washington, D.C.
The “Know Your Constitution” contest tests one’s skills on navigating through the U.S. Constitution and how to apply outside knowledge in a well typed essay. To be eligible to be a finalist and attend the luncheon in Des Moines, students had to complete 50 multiple choice, open book questions and write a 200-1,000 word essay on an assigned topic related to the constitution.
One hundred out of the 1,000 students entered were selected as finalists from districts all around Iowa. Ten percent of those students were from the Cedar Falls district.
Many schools arrived early to the luncheon to listen in to the question and answer portion of the conference. “My favorite part of the awards luncheon has grown to be the special information session prior to the luncheon. It’s neat to see and hear the award finalists break down and analyze the various components of the essay topic they were to write about,” Kuker said.
During this question and answer portion, a board member broke down the essay and offered open ended questions for the students to add their input. Finalists and teachers enjoy the question and answer portion because it educates them on things they could add to their essay to improve it and make it more unique.
“It’s pretty interesting to see how the same amendments, laws and historical facts can be interpreted in complete opposite ways. During the Q&A, points are also brought up that I may have never considered. It provides a holistic view of the essay prompt,” finalist Aastha Chandra said.
One of the favored part of the luncheon was the actual meal (three courses!) and the key-note speaker. When the finalists walked into the room, there were plump salads, three different salad dressings and bread decorated on the table. Also on the table was cheesecake, which was incredibly hard not to nibble on until after the main course.
“I loved the food. I know it sounds silly, but the mashed potatoes at the luncheon were amazing,” O’Loughlin said.
In between the feasting, teachers and finalists listened to a federal judge talk about her experience with the Constitution and how programs like these are dying down.
“I also enjoyed hearing Judge Goodgame Ebinger speak about her occupation and its importance,” O’Loughlin said.
The Iowa State Bar Association is trying to dip students’ toes in the civic careers as well give them amazing opportunities. “I’m most pleased that the Iowa State Bar Association, Young Lawyer’s Division is so passionate about helping to get students to want to pursue civics-based educational opportunities,” Kuker said.
Programs like these are recommended by teachers and students because they are a great learning experience and introduce students to a civics courrier. “I would recommend all students to take a part in the program due to the sheer fact that the Constitution is extremely applicable to many people’s lives at some time or another. Gaining an understanding of the document at an early age can only help in that regard then” Kuker said.
Chandra, who has attended this luncheon two times before and this year had her essay displayed with few others, is another who values the Constitution for its importance. “Though I don’t plan to pursue law, the conference has definitely provided me with more insight on how it works. I enjoy how each year, the essay prompts cover controversial topics so that we can expand our knowledge on current issues.”
The closing part of the luncheon is the highlight of the conference. “I love seeing the faces of Washington, D.C., trip winners when their names are announced — they are so shocked, it’s adorable. It was especially exciting this year to have Devin selected for the trip,” Chandra said.
Every year five students along with their teacher are randomly selected to attend an all-inclusive five day trip in Washington, D.C. Minutes before the five finalists were called, Cedar Falls finalists calculated and figured out that out of their 10 finalists, each had a five percent chance to go to Washington, D.C. As it turned out, one was picked.
O’Loughlin was one out of the five picked to attend the week long D.C. trip. “I was so surprised, I started shaking and couldn’t stop. After the end of the luncheon, all of the people who got picked to go to D.C. took a picture for the newspapers, and I couldn’t even properly smile, I was freaking out that much. I was and still am so excited,” O’Loughlin said.