Constitution Project founder, Texas County associate circuit judge Doug Gaston, hugs Missouri State Highway Patrol Col. Sandy Karsten during a kickoff event Sept. 6 in Jefferson City.

Students from Houston High School were among 12 high schools across the state participating in the 2017 Constitution Project.

Missouri First Lady Sheena Greitens opened the Sept 6 ceremony at the Missouri Capitol Building in Jefferson City with a speech explaining the differences between America’s Constitutional Republic and other nations without similar governments, like North Korea. Students also heard from Missouri Highway Patrol Colonel Sandy Karsten and disabled Army Veteran Rob Canine, amongst others. The bulk of the day was then spent with students playing the roles of Representatives and Senators, debating a free college tuition bill in the House and Senate.

The Constitution Project was founded in 2011 at Houston High School by Texas County Associate Circuit Judge Doug Gaston. The project has two primary goals: To give students exciting, hands-on experience in possible future careers that are integral to the United States Constitution and the nation, and to provide participants with a greater understanding of and love for the U.S. Constitution, through personal experience in the constitutional system, including concepts such as freedom of the press, due process and the right to trial by jury.

“This interactive program has grown in popularity as students from around the state have come to the State Capitol to participate in events that focus on everything from crime scene investigation to trial advocacy,” said Rep. Robert Ross (R-Yukon). “The kids who have participated have walked away with glowing reviews and a far better understanding of how our governmental processes work.”

More than 200 students will be participating in the 2017 program. Participants are chosen based on school district excellence, capability in teaching the three disciplines of the competition and student aptitude. In addition, each community is required to pledge commitments from the school, local judges, law enforcement, media and attorneys.

This year’s field includes Lebanon, Poplar Bluff, School of the Osage (Osage Beach), Mountain Grove, Marshfield, Fulton, North Technical High School (Florissant), Cor Jesu Academy (St. Louis), Camdenton, Nixa, Rolla and Houston.

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