An educational program for high school students born in Texas County in the spring of 2012 will soon be presented at schools around Missouri.

Called the “Constitution Project,” the program involves a competition designed to give high school students a better appreciation for the United States Constitution and provide a first-hand look at what people do who are involved in the country’s justice system.

Last week, the Supreme Court of Missouri’s Committee on Civic Education and the state judiciary announced the launching of an informational webpage for the competition and the release of a promotional public service announcement that began airing around the state on Aug. 28. The Project will kick off around Missouri on Constitution Day, Sept. 17.

Mentored by real-life representatives from various appropriate fields (including courtroom personnel, law enforcement officers, medical workers and journalists), participants are given hands-on experience in possible future careers integral to the constitution and the nation. They’re in charge of investigating and reporting a mock crime in their town, following it from the initial crime scene through a mock trial, and doing all the jobs themselves, including interrogating suspects, processing evidence, acting as attorneys and documenting incidents through articles and photos.

At the conclusion, mentors vote on top performers, and scholarships and other awards are presented.

Texas County Associate Circuit Judge Doug Gaston created the Constitution Project as a way to engage and teach local high school students about possible careers, but said there’s a more meaningful aspect to it.

“The most important thing is that our students gain increased understanding of –– and love for –– our Constitution, the freedom it protects and for our great nation,” Gaston said.

Gaston has been busy in the prelude to the project’s statewide launch, traveling from town to town and doing a lot of consulting via conference calls.

“I am heavily involved in the statewide effort and have been working hard on it all year actually,” he said.  “We’re working hard with schools and communities who are interested in being considered for this fall’s project.”

Gaston serves on the Civic Education Committee and is chair of The Constitution Project Subcommittee, which includes (among others) state Supreme Court Judge Patricia Breckenridge, former Supreme Court Judge Ann Covington, Missouri State Highway Patrol Col. Ron Replogle, Missouri School Board Associate Executive Director Dr. Carter Ward, Missouri Press Association Executive Director Doug Crews and Missouri Broadcasters Association President Mark Gordon, as well as the presidents of the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association and Police Chiefs Association.

“I have lots of wonderful help,” Gaston said. “It’s thrilling to see the project expanding this way. It’s such a wonderful way to work with our students and our communities. But most importantly, it’s so exciting to see so many people doing their part for the great cause of liberty.

“We are so blessed in this nation to have been given a Constitution which protects our freedom. Each generation has the responsibility, and the joy, of defending it and passing it on – and that’s really what the project is about.”

Gaston said he hopes the Project’s sphere of influence continues to grow.

“This year we will select a limited number of participants – about 12 – from around the state as a ‘pilot’ state-wide project and next year it will be open to every school in the state,” he said. “In addition, we’re already getting interest from other states around the country this year.”

The public service announcement for the Project features Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Russell, news anchor Megan Murphy (of KOMU-TV in Columbia), Missouri National Guard Adjutant General Steve Danner and Replogle. Also appearing in the spot are the winners in last December’s competition between school districts in Texas County: Brittany Scott, Dusti Turner, Kelli Allbrecht, and Nathan Poynter, all of Houston High School.

“Participation in the Constitution Project will not only teach our students about our constitutional rights are used daily in various occupations,” Russell said, “but also help foster relationships between the students and government officials and the media.”

Statewide co-sponsors of the project include the MSHP, Sheriffs’ Association, Police Chiefs Association, Missouri Press Association, Missouri Broadcasters Association and the Missouri Bar Association.

More information about the Constitution Project can be found online at its new web page: www.courts.mo.gov/constitutionproject.

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