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Students Pay Tribute to U.S. History with Speech Competition

Mar 10, 2016 11:18AM ● Published by Bryan Scott

By Tori La Rue | tori@mycityjournals.com

West Jordan - Sherry Nima, 13, said she was scared when she went to present her group speech about the Bill of Rights at West Jordan Middle School’s We the People competition. 

She and three other students stood in front of a panel of judges as they geared up to present their final project for the second quarter of U.S. history. After they presented the speech, judges asked them follow-up questions about their chosen topic. 

The purpose of the We the People program is to “promote civic competence and responsibility” among students in an exciting way, according to the program’s website. Students learn the curriculum for the first part of the year before engaging in speech competitions with self-written speeches about what they learned. 

All eighth graders in the school were required to participate in the school version of the nationally recognized competition or do an alternate assignment, department chair Krista Gibbons said. 

 “While we were presenting, I was surprised because I started to feel like it was an amazing and fun experience,” Sherry said. “We got a little mixed up at times, but it’s just great to show what you know like that.” 

Sherry’s group scored high enough that they were invited to the state competition, along with five other groups. These 26 students, who won the school competition, had the opportunity to go on to the state competition on Feb. 10.

Judges graded students using the same five-point system West Jordan Middle school uses on a daily basis, May said.  The volunteer judges included Jen Atwood, district board member, and one person from Virginia.

The judges looked for the groups’ understanding of the topic question, constitutional application, reasoning on their positions, supporting evidence, responsiveness in the question and answer section, and participation.

 “The students who went on to state did an amazing job in all the sections,” Gibbons said. “It was these high scores that secured their spot in state.”

Alexia May, U.S. history teacher, said it was a great confidence booster for her students. While watching the presentations, she started to cry because she was so proud of her students for applying the things they learned during class. 

“Most of the time these classes are timid and it can be like pulling teeth to get anyone to speak up,” Gibbons said. “It’s enough to knock your socks off when the judges ask them a question and they know their stuff.” 

May said quarter two is jammed packed with information from checks and balances, the constitution, the Bill of Rights, political views and more. The competition is a nice way to combine all of that information.

“This is an amazing program that teaches our students not only about their constitution and its importance in their lives, but gives them the life skills to think analytically on topics of government which will help them when they become voting citizens of the United States,” Gibbons said. 

West Jordan Middle School students have been invited to participate in the national competition in Philadelphia in years past, but they have been unable to attend because the district does not allow middle school students to travel outside of the state.

The school has been participating in the program for five years, and each year at least one group of students has gone to the state competition. The school usually places fourth or fifth at state, and the highest they’ve placed is second.

“The competition is a fun end to the unit,” May said. “I can’t think of a better culmination of learning.   

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