Photo via Brennan McConnell-Griner at the 2020 state competition. Photo taken at Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse of Unit 5 students and coaches.

For seniors at Franklin approaching graduation, the final requirements are one more English credit and one credit in a Government/Econ class, with a choice between an AP version and a non-AP version. Students who chose the AP Government/Econ class are required to join the Constitution Team and participate in competitions on the regional, state, and potentially nationwide level. The Constitutional Law Team, or Con Law, is divided into six units, each with their own individual coaches, that contain six students. The units are broken down by a question that defines their main focus, with the following units: Unit 1- What are the philosophical and historical foundations of the American political system?, Unit 2- How did the Framers create the Constitution?, Unit 3- How has the Constitution been changed to further the ideals contained in the Declaration of Independence?, Unit 4- How have the values and principles embodied in the Constitution shaped American institutions and practices?, Unit 5- What rights does the Bill of Rights protect?, and Unit 6- What challenges might face American constitutional democracy in the 21st Century?

The units focus on answering three questions in the form of personal essays before combining them into a four minute long speech that will be practiced before the competition. Once at regionals, the teams are randomly asked one of the practiced questions. Followed by more questions by the judge in response to their answer. The other two unasked questions will be asked at the state competition along with more follow up questions from the judges. In preparation for the competition, teams must put in many hours and a lot of hard work. Con Law teacher David Marsh commented about the competition saying, “I am always excited about the We the People Competition as it is an opportunity to students to show off how much they have learned over the course of the year and parents are always astonished by the amount of information that their student knows,” making all the time spent worthwhile.

Constitution Team meets every Monday night from 6 to 9PM, as well as additional meeting times on weekends for individual units. While the class itself is not particularly difficult or strenuous other than the three major essays done at the beginning of the year, practice for the competitions is a massive time commitment that fills many students’ Monday nights. Mr. Marsh best described the class and team as “a great experience for students who want to challenge themselves.” A crucial asset to the team in preparation for the Con Law competitions are the units’ coaches. About two to three coaches are assigned to each unit with varying careers from being a lawyer to retired judges. The coaches work alongside students in their units to prepare and assist them to answer the essay questions and join them for their individual meetings. Jillian Dixon (12) found the coaches to be extremely encouraging and very educational. “At first all of the information they threw at me overwhelmed me, but it made me super accountable and I learned so much from them. Towards the end, I felt super supported by them and they made me a lot more confident for the competition.” Having coaches is very helpful to the process as it provides more specific instruction time for each unit’s focus and allows guidance in the preparing and rehearsal processes that can sometimes feel muddled or confusing. Aubrey King agreed that the coaches make the competition more helpful and exciting saying, “The competition coaches are super cool! They are a bunch of really awesome people who coach including a sitting Oregon Supreme Court Justice and a former Justice.” All of Con Law’s hard work paid off as they made it through regionals and to state, placing 6th in Oregon. In 2019 and 2018, Con Law placed in 4th place and in 2017 they took 3rd place overall at State.

Approaching regionals can be a very stressful process as all the work that has been done throughout the school year in preparation for competition is laid out in the courtroom with judges. Dixon expressed her stress, saying, “for regionals I was a lot more nervous! This is the first time I’ve ever been in a competition that’s based on intelligence, so the newness of it all scared me a lot.” While there is preparation work beforehand, once in the courtroom it comes down to everyone’s knowledge and analysis of the Constitution as it is the basis for judging the competition. After the tough essay question presentation, Dixon found comfort in the follow up questions: “We got asked really awesome follow-up questions which made my whole unit feel really smart.” After regionals, six teams were announced that they would be competing in regionals: Lincoln High School, Grant High School, Cleveland High School, Lake Oswego High School, Central Catholic High School and Franklin High School.

At the state competition on January 25, teams were asked the remaining two questions not asked previously in regionals and were expected to answer new follow up questions. The pressure is less momentous at state as the top two teams were required to go to nationals where three completely new responses were to be prepared and used in a much larger competition, an ordeal that is slightly less appealing as it means more late Monday nights. Overall the competition remained a fun yet difficult event, with Franklin taking the 6th place slot overall. The experience, however, of competing alongside peers and mentors is enriching and enlightening as it provides students with new tools to approach the Constitution and the way in which America’s government runs.

For any juniors hoping to forecast for AP Government/Econ, be advised the class and Con Law are worth it. The hours put in are an excellent way to prepare teams for a competition that is educational and exciting. The value of Con Law is best expressed by Mr. Marsh who said, “I would encourage all juniors to take Con Law as it is a great opportunity to collaborate with a group and work with lawyer and judge coaches. Students will learn the Constitution in great depth and develop their public speaking skills which is invaluable in many lines of work. Con Law comes with a good amount of work and is a time commitment but it is a time commitment worthwhile.” Dixon sees her experience as a way to feel more informed as a citizen: “what I really liked about it is how much I learned about history and how our government works, but mainly I love how it made me feel like a better citizen. I’m way more informed about politics now and why certain policies and bills matter in day to day life.” The purpose of the Constitution Team is to create a more thorough and well-rounded understanding of The Constitution and its role in society, which is the best preparation for politics in adulthood that a student can receive in high school. King noted his favorite thing about Con Law was “the subject matter and the way it gets talked about. Everything is more analytical than opinionated.” What brings Constitution Team together is the teamwork and unity that each unit has to develop. Julian Taylor said he “loved the feeling of teamwork and thinking on your feet. It gives me a sort of high.” Even if public speaking scares you, if you are willing to put in the time and work and are ready to learn about the Constitution, then join Con Law and represent Franklin High School at its next regional competition in the winter of 2021.