BALDWIN — Eighth-graders at Baldwin Junior High gained first-hand experience learning about civic fundamental principals of the U.S. during a mock congressional hearing on May 16.

“Eighth-graders spent more than four months preparing to answer their assigned questions,” said Colleene McCormick, teacher. “Students had four minutes to present their prepared response and then six minutes to answer follow-up questions from the panel of judges. We the People is a civic education program. The congressional hearing fosters critical thinking, collaboration and public speaking skills.

The judges for the mock trial were Tara Batdorf, Ferris State University social studies student teacher; Duane Roberts, director of the Baldwin Community Schools College Access Center; Sandy Clarke, West Shore Government and Political Science teacher; Ellen Zwarensteyn, director of the Michigan Center for Civic Education; Christopher Mayer, 7th grade Social Studies teacher; Craig Cooper, Lake County Prosecutor; and Calvin Patillo, Baldwin Junior/Senior High School principal.

Student Katherine Dale got a lot out of the experience.

“We began studying the Constitution is August. We began our We The People groups in January. We did research on our question, worked with our groups and wrote a four minute response and follow-up question,” she said. “We prepared by doing research, learning about case law, current events and constitutional rights. Doing WTP was time consuming and sort of difficult. I learned if police officers do not have a warrant, the evidence they find they cannot use in court unless it is in plain view.”

“My experience for the WTP was fun, scary and nerve-wracking at the same time,” said student Katlin Herington. “I thought that it was going to be way harder than it was, but it was really easy for me and for the people in my group. What I learned from this was never give up.”

Student Savana Bloom said her group worked with the topic of due process of the law being the primary and indispensable foundation of individual freedom.

“It protects the individual from government wrongdoing,” she said.

Courtney Garcia explained the process for the follow-up questions.

“There are the follow-up questions which can seem like a really intimidating subject, but it’s really not. We got to choose the first question that the judges asked us. The questions that they ask were based on what we brought up in our response. All you really have to do is just know your topic, do your research and have enough information to answer the questions,” she said.

As a judge, Roberts enjoyed the experience.

“The mock congressional hearing was a well put together program that showcased a dedicated teacher who believes in her students abilities,” he said. “Students presented well researched topics and provided logical and ethical reasoning behind their decisions. The students in my opinion demonstrated the type of critical thinking and reasoning needed in order to create a well sustained and progressive government.

“Students answered questions off of the cusp from judges who are well versed in several areas of law. I myself would love to commend Mrs. McCormick on a superb job, and I am hoping that she continues her program. My goal and hope is that the students will take these experiences and utilize them for the future.”