"Hard Work Is The Great Equalizer", Sky View's 'We The People' On Competing In D.C.

May 30, 2017

  

Sky View's 2017 We the People team.
Credit Courtesy of Sky View's We the People.

Correction: A previous version of this story referred to one of the students as Carter Hawkins. This has been changed to Carter Martindale.

Regulars who pass through Smithfield City are familiar with two large, white letters -- an S and a V -- painted on a hillside. Located beneath those letters is Sky View High School, serving over 1,700 students within the rural community.

In the morning, the halls are silent, but once the bell chirps loudly throughout the school, scuttering sneakers and chattering students quickly follow.

School begins. Students rush into their classrooms. Sky View offers many classes. Basic ones like English and algebra, and more unique ones like physics and film history studies. Some are easier than others and some much harder...

Rigby: "Should freedom of expression be limited if at all?"

Carter: "I think free expression should be limited if it is intended or likely to incite immediate lawless action. In the Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio…"

Carter Martindale, one of the students in Michael Rigby’s AP Government class. Students don’t merely learn about the United States Government on a college freshman level, they also compete in a national competition where they take part in a mock congressional hearing.

"The Supreme Court said that individuals should be able to talk about really whatever they want so long as it wasn’t intended to immediately create lawless actions because that allows individuals to state things that are critical of the U.S. without allowing a lawless uprising to be formed."

Carter’s answer dealt with case law pertaining to the First Amendment. I ask him whether he thinks high schoolers normally question government on such a profound level.

Carter: "Ugh, no. I don’t think at all. I think most high schoolers just take it for granted -- I don’t think a lot of high schoolers really care about freedom of expression."

So maybe constitutional law isn't every student's "cup of tea", but at the We the People National Finals, students are well versed.

Like all school teams competing in D.C., Sky View’s We the People team is organized into six units; each with their own topic including constitutional theory, American history, government, current events and the Declaration of Independence.

Presentations last 10 minutes; four minutes for the students to present their written statement responding to a question on constitutional or governmental issues, then six minutes for a panel of judges to ask questions.

It’s an intense course. The prospect of prolonged research on such complicated matters can be intimidating to most high school students.

Sarah: "It was just very intimidating because I didn’t think I could measure up."

Sarah Simmons is also a member of the Sky View team.

Sarah: "But just as Rigby says: to work hard and keep going -- that’s what I did and I feel like I did a pretty good job."

The hard work students learn to exhibit in Rigby’s class has lead the team to 11 straight victories at the state level. Once a team wins state, they qualify to compete in the national competition in D.C.

Rigby: "Hard work is the great equalizer. That, through efforts they can measure up. And that’s true of the whole class; I mean, we’re rural high school in Northern Utah."

Michael Rigby has coached the program for over a decade, and says, despite being from a modestly-funded rural high school, Sky View’s students excel at nationals.

Rigby: "They’re going up against some of these private prep schools that costs tens of thousands of dollars to attend. And our student not only compete with these students, they beat ‘em."

But flying up to thirty students to D.C. every year isn’t cheap. This year’s bill: $55,000.

Madison Perry: "We had a ton of amazing, generous donors who helped us out because they understood the importance of this program and what we were doing and they didn’t want us having to worry about raising the money to go back."

Madison Perry and the rest of the team embarked on a tour of the capital: their reward after a year of hard work. Holly Lemon said participating in the program gave her a deeper appreciation for the D.C. visit.

Holly Lemon: "It just kinda made history more real for me to be able to have background knowledge about the events that happened. Especially seeing the constitution -- you could pick your favorite article. And the Founding Fathers, you could see their signatures."

While the team has enjoyed much success, this is Mr. Rigby’s final year at Sky View. He will be moving to the new Green Canyon High School opening next year.

Mr. Rigby: "I think one outcome will be that we will actually be able to continue this program, because the rules dictate that we can actually combine two high schools. It is paramount that these kids understand democratic processes. Regardless of what they do they’ll be active members in the community. They’ve done some longitudinal studies, the statistics show that well over 90 percent of these students become active voters, and they become politically and civically engaged."

Sky View's We the People team placed 19th out of 56th teams overall, with Sky View Unit 5 winning first in their unit.