Students had a full morning, organizing in team meetings who met with either the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Missouri Broadcasters Association and Missouri Press Association, or the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Afterwards, the Project had a kickoff ceremony in the chamber followed by mock legislative debates. The day was closed with a speech by Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge and a performance by a Lincoln University choir.

The Project started in 2013 with two goals in mind: 1) “to give students exciting, hands-on experience in possible future careers that are integral to the United States Constitution and our nation,” and 2) “to give students a greater understanding of and love for the United States Constitution, through personal experience in our constitutional system, including concepts such as freedom of the press, due process and the right to trial by jury.”

Texas County Associate Circuit Judge Doug Gaston started the project at Houston (Missouri) High School. Last year, the competition last year included more than 150 students from 12 schools in three regions.

“It went really well,” said Gaston. “The kids really enjoyed it and it was a thrill to see the life inside of them and see them get fired up for the project.”

Organizers hopes that participants will have fun while gaining experience in fields such as crime scene investigation, journalism, and trial advocacy.

Individual winners of the state championship received $1,000 scholarships from sponsoring organizations, which included The Missouri Bar, the Missouri Broadcasters Association, the Missouri Press Association, the Missouri Sheriff’s Association, the Missouri Police Chiefs Association, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and the Supreme Court of Missouri.

Competitors from the 16 schools were chosen by the Supreme Court’s Committee on Civic Education based on merit and their interest in the three disciplines. For a local school to be chosen, the community is required to pledge commitments from the school, local judges, law enforcement, media and attorneys. From there,

This year’s competition featured teams from four regions:

    • In the western region are Father Tolton Regional Catholic High School in Columbia, School of the Osage High School in Osage Beach, Smith-Cotton High School in Sedalia and University Academy in Kansas City.
    • In the eastern region are Cardinal-Ritter College Preparatory High School in St. Louis, Fulton High School in Fulton, North Technical High School in Florissant and St. James High School in St. James.
    • In the southwestern region are Bolivar High School in Bolivar, Camdenton High School in Camdenton, Logan-Rogersville High School in Rogersville and Nixa High School in Nixa.
    • In the south-central region are Dixon High School in Dixon, Houston High School in Houston, Rolla High School in Rolla and West Plains High School in West Plains.

Six schools were new to the Constitution Project: Bolivar, Fulton, North Tech, Rolla, Smith-Cotton and University Academy.

“Several of the students were amazing,” Gaston said. “We had probably 5 or 6 in the senate that were just off the charts and debating as well as those that serve in the Senate today.

“At the end, we had them read famous speeches. They read excerpts from Martin Luther King, Jr., JFK, and the Founding Fathers and they really put their hearts into it.”

Certain competitors also will be selected to be Constitution Fellows. Constitution Fellows in journalism will spend a day at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism; fellows in crime scene investigation will spend a day at the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s crime lab in Jefferson City; and fellows in trial advocacy will spend a day at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. Along with these organizations, the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg also is a co-sponsor of the Constitution Fellowships.

Planning is already underway for the 2016 Constitution Project, which will have a collegiate competition as well.




Full Story: The Missouri Times