Student wins trip to Washington, D.C. | Seven students named finalists in constitution contest

Student finalists with their certificates at the luncheon, from left to right: Jacob Smothers, Vedanti Sankpal, Madeline Castings, Jillian Kellum, and Param Sampat. Not pictured: Olivia Smothers and Emma Yarrow.

Seven students were named as finalists in The Iowa State Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division “Know Your Constitution” Project.  The students included Madeline Castings, Jacob Smothers, Olivia Smothers, Vedanti Sankpal and Emma Yarrow from Cedar Falls High School and Jillian Kellum and Param Sampat from Holmes Junior High.

One hundred finalists were selected from the more than 1,000 students across the State of Iowa who participated in the “Know Your Constitution” Project. These finalists were honored at a luncheon held at the West Des Moines Marriott on Jan. 13. They had the opportunity to hear about the development of the republic from Justice Christopher McDonald of the Iowa Supreme Court.

Sophomore Emma Yarrow said to ensure her spot as one of the 100, she used a lot of sources and picked a topic that interested her. “I would say try to look at a variety of sites and a variety of sources. If you just stick with one you are not going to get the most you can out of it,” she said. “When you’re doing it, try to look at stories that interest you, like relating to the topic, relating to the other cases. Because if you’re not really interested in it, you can’t give your full opinion.” 

Another reason Yarrow said she was successful is because she used her opinion to augment the evidence from the Constitution. 

From the finalists, five students and their teachers were chosen by a random drawing to attend the all expense paid, Close-Up Foundation’s five-day long education work session in Washington, D.C., on Feb.  The work sessions are organized to develop a deeper understanding of government and the political process. Yarrow and her teacher, Nina Grudt, were selected to attend the trip this year. “I was really excited. I couldn’t believe that I had actually gotten it. It didn’t cross my mind that I would probably win,” Yarrow said

The “Know Your Constitution” Project is designed to enrich students’ understanding and appreciation of the Constitution. The students participating in the project were required to familiarize themselves with Constitution-related issues. 

A quiz was completed by each participating student. An essay question accompanied the quiz in case of a tie. 

This year’s essay topic involved Constitutional questions centered on a restrictive student dress code at a public high school. Students were asked to consider the nature of the First Amendment as it relates to student conduct. 

Yarrow said so far this experience has taught her to acknowledge the work of lawyers. “I think I have a deeper understanding of it now. I almost appreciate people who are lawyers and the work that goes into it and all the time it takes them to figure out one case.” 

Yarrow said she recommends this project to people with varying interests. “I would probably recommend it to anyone who likes government in general, or who likes writing or opinion pieces. Also, there is a lot of research that can go into it, so if you like that type of thing, like determining what sources are the best,” she said. 

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