Eighth-graders provide lesson in modern civics

SUNDAY, JUNE 12, 2011

When a recent graduate enters the workplace they usually find a few challenges:

• Teamwork where everyone is expected to contribute.

• Holding peers accountable.

• Thinking on your feet.

• Not getting a pass when you miss a deadline.

Lakeside Middle School in Nine Mile Falls works hard to teach eighth graders about challenges like these with the “We the People” civics program. Student teams rotate through assorted modules and are judged by individuals from the business community. This year I was lucky enough to be one.

The program was federally funded, but along with much government spending, the funding is now gone and that’s too bad. The program not only teaches kids about the history of our constitution, where authority lies, and what individual citizens’ rights and responsibilities are, it challenges them on that knowledge. Which is where I came into the picture.

My group of judges looked at current events and how the United States plays a global role. We had fun asking some tough questions of our five student teams, and I learned far more than any of the students.

On each team there were clear leaders as well as non-contributors, some too shy to be even slightly comfortable before the panel of judges. My heart went out to them when they read from the notes they prepared; fear clearly showing in their eyes. I have always recommended public speaking classes on the top of a “to do” list, as no matter where you end up in life, you will always speak to people. Becoming comfortable doing so is a big step up professionally.

Some of the leaders handled missteps better than others. Seeing the strong team members glare at others just underscored how frustrating it is to have worked hard, only to have someone else not live up to their responsibilities. Many of these strong team members looked like they were ready to conquer the world! But there were a few kids who did not dress the part and they stuck out like sore thumbs.

Most students take this event very seriously and work hard to know the topics. Some groups were polished and flowed flawlessly thorough the speeches like robots, while others were a bit more human and spontaneous. Still others were either underprepared or just so nervous they missed the mark in a spot or two. But overall, I was really impressed with the eighth graders. It was wonderful to see them so passionate and focused and, above all, driven to excel.

Jim Bannister is the teacher who leads this project each year. Three of his former students now work at the BBB. He was not aware of that when he asked me to help judge this year. Jim turns out some awesome graduates; I watch them work hard each day at the office.

But my favorite part of “We the People” was getting answers to questions about the effects of social networking on the U.S. and world. Remember, these are teenagers, stereotypically tied to their cell phones, Facebook, Twitter and texting. Three of the judges in my group were adults, while the fourth was a high school senior and former “We the People” winner.

One student gave an analogy about how much easier Facebook would have made Paul Revere’s ride – it would have been shorter. However, all the kids see that while the recent impact of social media in Libya and Egypt was profound, overuse takes a toll on one-on-one relationships and communication. The kids seem to feel it is just one way to reach people, not the only way. They are skeptical of the privacy issues on Facebook, the tracking by advertisers and how it can actually isolate rather than connect.

These are young people I want to continue to connect with, now and in the future. Thank you, Lakeside Middle School. “We the People” was a great lesson for me, too.

Jan Quintrall is president and CEO of the local Better Business Bureau. E-mail:

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