Students from around Kern County put their knowledge of U.S. history to the test on Saturday.
Seniors from schools across the county participated in the We the People Congressional Hearings competition, hosted by Golden Valley High School. Students from schools in both the 21st and 23rd congressional districts gave oral presentations on topics relating to the U.S. Constitution and responded to questions from government teachers and other local experts.
Centennial High School from the 23rd District and Arvin High School from the 21st district won in their districts. Centennial was chosen as the overall winner of the competition for earning the most points. Centennial students will now represent the region in the state championships, to be held on Feb. 2 in Bakersfield.
Bakersfield’s East, West and Liberty high schools also participated in the competition. Golden Valley, Mira Monte and Shafter high schools competed as part of the 21st district.
In the hearings, students discussed governmental issues dating back to the colonial days all the way up to President Donald J. Trump’s presidency.
“The ultimate goal [of the event] is to produce better citizens,” said Robert Ruckman, coach for the Arvin High team. “The competition aspect is wonderful, but the end goal is to ensure we have knowledgeable and civic-minded individuals out there in the community, and I think today, everyone has been able to demonstrate that.”
The students studied over a month, both together and individually, for the competition. In Centennial High’s case, students had to study together twice a week for four hours and privately for six hours.
“It’s been very hard work. We’ve had to look at a lot of court cases,” said Bradford Helton, a member of the Centennial High team. “I’m very pleased with the outcome and I’m very happy to have been able to work with such a talented team. There’s so much energy, so many different kinds of personalities here – it’s really exhilarating.”
Arbab Alam, another Centennial student, said being questioned was a nerve-wracking experience at first but that over time, he got used to it.
“It was nice to get the feel of the classroom and do the actual hearing in front of different people,” he said.
Helton said he wanted to participate in the program to get a better understanding about how the government works.
“I came cause I wanted to work with my friends, but I also wanted to learn more about the Constitution, learn more about our government and, in a sense, contribute something back to America,” he said. “As a citizen of the United States, it’s important to have a civic education and understand how our government and how it works.”
Helton’s participation in the competition doesn’t mean that he plans to be a politician anytime soon, however.
“Even though I love politics, I could never be a senator or something like that. I would have to lie,” he said half-jokingly.
Alam said he ultimately hopes to be a doctor someday, but he feels that his experience with the competition was useful.
“This actually has furthered my interest in government,” he said. “I feel like it’s given me more hope in government rather than just stupid bureaucrats not getting anything done. It gives hope and encourages civil virtue.”
Leonard Garcia with Arvin High said it was his love of history that drew him to the competition.
“I’ve always been passionate about history and learning more about it,” he said. “This has been a great experience. My speaking skills in public have become better. I grew close to the other people that are in the class. They make you want to study harder and learn more.”
Garcia said he is considering studying social science in college and possibly even being a history teacher in the future.
Ruckman said that he is proud of his team and all the other students that participated.
“The most you can ask for is for them to come in and have a good experience and be able to demonstrate the fruits of their labor,” he said. “If you have that, then it’s a success.”