JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Around 240 Missouri students came to the state capitol to participate in the annual Constitution Project. On Wednesday morning, students from schools around the state participated in a mock investigation and participated in the legislative process to pass a hypothetical bill. First Lady Sheena Greitens was in attendance as were Rep. Robert Ross and Hannah Kelly.
The Constitution Project was founded in 2013 to be an immersive competition where high school students can briefly experience life as a police detective, lawyer, journalist, and/or state legislator. To join the program, 13-17 student applicants must have the approval of their principal and their local judge to participate in the Constitution Project. Associate Circuit Judge Doug Gaston is Chair of the Constitution Project Committee, which is in charge of organizing the event.
The program is expected to go over the course of several days in the following three months. Depending on the day, students might be asked to engage in all parts of the democratic process, which can include investigating fake crime scenes, interrogating suspects, defending or prosecuting defendants, reporting on the event, or trying to pass, amend, or kill a bill.
This morning, students arrived in the Missouri House chamber and filled the seats of Missouri’s state representatives. Judge Gaston lead the students in the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lincoln University Choir began the mock session with the National Anthem. First Lady Greitens welcomed the students and talked about the importance of living in a constitutional liberal democracy.
In her work as a professor of political-science at the University of Missouri, Greitens said that she spoke with refugees who escaped from North Korea. She warned of a country that imprisons large amounts of its people, with little sympathy for criminal justice, and doesn’t allow its citizens to vote in elections. “Government is supposed to protect and serve the people… Freedom is God given, but that it also requires action and participation from all of us for freedom to be protected and lived out here in America,” she said.
For her, it was important for the students to learn the facets of how a liberal democracy functions. She was fortunate that the students were able to learn about the various parts of the Constitution Project.
Following her remarks, the students presented the flags of their schools to the Missouri Veterans of Foreign Wars. After, Sergeant Shawn Griggs and Captain John Hotz demonstrated how to effectively interrogate a subject through effective communication strategies.
Finally, the students debated a hypothetical education reform which would see the state of Missouri provide college education to its citizens at no cost. The house debates were taking longer than expected as some students felt that a tuition free college education was too much of a burden on hypothetical taxpayers, while others felt that such a policy would provide Missourians an opportunity to a better life.
Rep. Kelly was also able to help some of the students refine their arguments and better contribute to the legislative process. Both she and Judge Gaston went around to help specific students when they needed it. Rep. Ross was helping one student act as an effective Speaker of the House.
Once the students got a better understanding of how the legislative process should function, the students gained confidence and so were such effective legislators that they impressed Rep. Kelly.
“The Constitution Project is building a desire in our future generations for leadership that we have to have. It’s very pragmatically approached on all sides. Excellence is required to be here, there’s an accountability as to why you think the way you do. It’s important some of the students end back up here some day.”