Remember Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the 1939 comedy-drama starring Jimmy Stewart about one man’s effect on American politics? It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, won for best screenplay and became an enduring American classic.
Fast forward 70 years, to 2009. Turns out that Corona del Sol High School has its own Mr. Smith: Timothy Smith, that is, who is not only going to Washington, D.C., but taking along 27 students from his Competition Government class.
Corona’s team, comprised of students from Smith’s class, won the coveted “We the People” state championship. The entire team, under Smith’s guidance, will represent Arizona at the national finals April 25-27.
Although it was Corona’s 10th state title, it is the first one since 2001. Dobson High in Mesa has “held, cherished and hoarded the title for the past eight years,” according to team member Lizzie Shafer.
Smith says the he goal of his senior Competition Government class every year is to win the state title. More importantly, he adds, is the effort to increase the students’ understanding and appreciation for the workings of America’s constitutional democracy.
“Comp Gov helped me get an insider's view of government; understanding how the cogs of the machine work,” said Shafer.
“I feel that understanding our government lets me take an active role in my life, and not just smile and nod as it governs me. I now see a budding vision of the big picture—where a bill or act is coming from—how it benefits the country as a whole, not just me.”
Another team member gained a different perspective on government affairs from Smith’s class and this “We the People” competition.
“I never knew how much time, how much effort, how much leadership it took for our nation to be where it is today,” said Jocelyn Hu. “The class has given me tremendous respect for the foundation of our government, and I now see it in a totally different way.”
The “We the People” competition consists of six units of four to five students each who have to be prepared to answer questions in front of a panel of judges composed of attorneys, judges and other professionals from the community.
The competition setting simulates a congressional committee, providing an opportunity for students from each unit to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of constitutional principles.
“Each unit or panel provides a four-minute opening statement for each question, followed by six minutes of a sort of cross-examination by the judges,” said Smith. “The class is scored by the overall performance of all the units—60 possible points each—for a possible total of 240 points.”
Competition Government classes have an innovative instructional design developed so students not only learn about the institutions of American constitutional democracy but, at the same time, discover the contemporary relevance of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. All of this while preparing together as a team for the “We the People” competition.
“Competition Government isn't your typical class—it's self-motivated but still team oriented,” said Shafer. “I'd say my homework mostly consisted of reading the textbook, as well as countless other government histories, researching specific court cases and their contexts, and paying attention to current events to construct a cohesive understanding of government, in its evolution and current application.”
Corona had high and consistent scoring throughout the competition, held at Arizona State University West in Glendale to beat Dobson High School by 50 points. Hamilton High School took third and Prescott High School was fourth.
Corona’s team came together and supported each other throughout the competition, according to Smith.
“This year’s team not only had the desire to win, but also the will and determination to be successful,” said Smith. “I even overheard one of the judges comment on how one of Corona’s team ‘warmed their heart’ because they were such knowledgeable and passionate presenters.”
Students who won the state championship and will now be headed to Washington with Smith in April are Ahmed Aboul-Nasr, Hannah Augee, Kaitlyn Beaudet, Katherine Cai, Christine Dyster, Seth Garrison, Siddesh Gopalakrishnan, Paul Gu, Abby Henderson, Jocelyn Hu, Derek Hurang, Shelly Jackson, Rachel Kultala, Wyatt Larkin, Elizabeth Lee, Vishal Maini, Eric McKay, Hari Menon, Alex Nunez, Vincent Park, Smitha Ramakrishna, Lizzie Shafer, Pankti Shah, Mike Swindle, Molly Yang, Jake Yocham and Zeyang Yu.
In order to make the trip to Washington D.C., the Competitive Government class will need to do some fundraising to reduce the cost of the trip for the students. Smith says he is hoping to get community support to send the team to the finals.