Houston High School students were among the nearly 200 students representing 12 schools who met at the state capitol last Wednesday for kickoff festivities for the 2014 Constitution Project.
The students cheered from their seats in the House of Representatives chamber as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Missouri Mary Russell slammed the gavel from the dais and officially declared the project begun. It was national Constitution Day.
“The Constitution is a great gift that has been given to you,” Russell said to the students. “We are so proud of you for your commitment to our Constitution and to our nation.”
The day began with a mock arrest and trial, followed by breakout work sessions for the students and ended with debates regarding the electronic communications amendment to the Missouri Constitution on the floor of the house. The students then heard remarks from Russell, Supreme Court Judge Patricia Breckenridge, Sen. Mike Kehoe and Vietnam Veteran Don Hentges.
Hentges talked to the students about his own service and that of his best friend who lost his life in an explosion.
“You owe it to him, and to every soldier who has fought and died, to become all you are capable of in your lives,” Hentges said.
The presentations concluded with the Lincoln University choir performing The Star Spangled Banner at the front of the chamber
“We were all so impressed with the talents and the enthusiasm of these students,” Breckenridge said. “It is not difficult at all to see future presidents, television news anchors, sheriffs, FBI agents and future judges amongst this group of
students. We are excited to see not only how they compete in the Constitution Project, but also everything they accomplish in their lives.”
The Constitution Project was founded in 2011 by Texas County Associate Circuit Judge Doug Gaston and was held in Houston the first two years before going statewide last year and featuring a final round in Jefferson City.
During the kickoff event, students played the roles of representatives debating a bill on the floor.
“We did that because many of these students will not be returning to Jefferson City for the finals,” Gaston said. “We wanted all of them to get the most out of being here this time.”
Gaston said next year’s kickoff will likely include students acting as senators and governor’s office representatives.
“That way they’ll experience the entire system at work,” he said.
Rep. Robert Ross, R-Yukon, also addressed the large crowd of students. Texas County VFW representatives presented copies of the Constitution.
Along with HHS, this year’s Constitution Project field includes Cardinal-Ritter College Preparatory High School, Clayton High School, Park Hills Central High School, Washington High School, Dixon High School, Father Tolton Regional Catholic High School, Helias Catholic High School, St. James High School Logan-Rogersville High School, Nixa High School and West Plains High School. The students – with assistance from organizations such as the Houston Herald, Missouri State Highway Patrol, Missouri Sheriff’s Association, Missouri Police Chiefs Association, Missouri Press Association, Missouri Broadcasters Association and The Missouri Bar – will compete in projects related to the disciplines of journalism, crime scene investigation, trial advocacy and multimedia. Regional competitions will take place toward the end of October and the state championship round will be contested in November.