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South Valley Journal

Teacher Institutes Congressional Hearing

Jun 15, 2016 09:25AM ● By Tori La Rue

Melanie Fisher, a fifth-grade teacher at Bluffdale Elementary School, wraps up her class’s congressional hearing on April 28. – Tori La Rue

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]

One teacher at Bluffdale Elementary School teaches U.S. History through hands-on activities that prepare her students for mock congressional hearings each spring. 

“The students prepare by re-enacting historical events in American History instead of just reading about them in textbooks,” fifth-grade teacher Melanie Fisher said. “They participate in service opportunities and regularly express their ideas and opinions in class as well. I definitely am a tough teacher with high expectations for my students. They earn every privilege and reward throughout the year, but we also have a good time together. I think this is the best way to prepare for something like this.”

Seven years ago as a first-year teacher, Fisher received a grant to go to James Madison University in Virginia to learn about and participate in “We the People,” a program established to promote civic competence and responsibility among students. Since that time, Fisher has taught the program’s curriculum for the first part of the year before helping her fifth-grade students engage in a culminating mock congressional hearing competition. 

The hearing requires memorization and effort, but it is an effective way to help students take an active part in their own learning, said Kim Brown, whose son Wyatt participated in Fisher’s most recent “We the People” program on April 28. 

“It’s been pretty cool to see how involved he is and how much he knows, because he actually has to do the performance,” Brown said. “This is something he will remember his whole life.”

Wyatt said his favorite part about the congressional hearing was presenting what he learned to the judges, especially Bluffdale Mayor Dirk Timothy. Mike Anderson, area superintendent for Jordan School District, and Karen Egan, principal, were the other two judges. 

“It’s a little nerve-racking when you are up there, but it is also exciting when you are up there,” Wyatt said. “I feel better now that it is over, but it was a lot of fun. It is just great learning all of this stuff.” 

Wyatt’s team of six spoke about the U.S. government system and won the competition overall, scoring the highest points from the audience and Fisher, and tying for first place according to the judges. 

“Their answers to the judges’ questions were well thought out with current events and constitutional applications,” Fisher said. “Their entire team participated multiple times with answering the questions as well.” 

Four other six-person teams presented on various government topics, including the purpose of government and the Bill of Rights. Each team member performed a self-written one-minute speech before judges asked unscripted follow-up questions that related to each team’s topic. Teams were judged based on the speeches and their responses to their follow-up questions. 

“Should every American citizen be required to participate in our government? I believe that each American citizen should not be required to participate in government,” Joshua Jones said in his speech. “The very foundation of this country was built on liberty—liberty of thought, liberty of speech, liberty to act or not to act. The very idea of forcing a person to participate in government shatters the core principles of our democracy.”

Egan said she was impressed with the student speeches, but said she was blown away by the answers students gave to the follow-up questions. 

When the judges asked why people choose not to vote, Sydni Nelson said, “I believe the reason many people don’t vote is because they don’t think their vote counts, but I believe that the government leaders who are running can tell the people who are their voters that everyone’s vote counts.”

After the event, Fisher said the hard work was worth it because she saw how much her students learned during the program and how much they enjoyed it. Egan said she also considered the event a success.

“I am a proud principal,” Eagan said. “I am really glad that Ms. Fisher takes the time to do this with our kids.”