American Legion hopes essay contest will build better citizens

Five Poulsbo Middle School eighth-graders honored for their compelling essays on the topic, “The U.S. Constitution and What It Means to Me”

POULSBO — ‘The way the Constitution rules our land echoes through all aspects of American society and dominates the way its citizens live,” Poulsbo Middle School eighth-grader Megan Turner wrote in the closing paragraph of her award-winning essay.

Turner, who placed first in the American Legion Post 245 essay contest, received a certificate, medal and $40 at the school’s end-of-the-year awards assembly June 16. Other eighth-graders receiving medals and prize money: second-place winner Katie Stuart, and third-place winners Grace Billings, Jaimie Floerent and Emily Grant.

They wrote the most compelling reflections on “The U.S. Constitution and What It Means To Me,” the essay contest theme.

It’s the first time the contest was presented in the North Kitsap School District.

Bob Critser, an American Legion member since 1986 who served as an Air Force crew chief in Korea and Japan, said the U.S. Constitution “means, from start to finish, the American way of life.”

He developed the Constitutional Essay Project while living in Monroe a number of years ago, and decided to bring the project to Poulsbo Middle School this year.

Critser, along with fellow American Legion member Ken Thomas, spoke with seven Poulsbo Middle School eighth-grade classes to explain the role of the American Legion and promote the essay contest.

“Bob’s been very dedicated to the project,” Thomas said.

Thomas is a Poulsbo City Council member and has a background in education and the military. He served on active duty in the U.S. Navy from 1981-1993, and in the Navy Reserve from 1993-2005.

He said one of the goals of the essay contest is to promote “the values of our society and our democratic government. We want to make sure that the United States has citizens that understand their government and their Constitution. These kids will be the voters and citizens guiding our country, until the 2090s, so we better get them started now. This is helping to assure the future of our country for decades.”

Poulsbo Middle School Principal Josh Emmons said the partnership with the American Legion is a beneficial one.

“I think anytime we can have a partnership with someone outside the school to get the kids to think about their rights and their abilities, growing up to be productive citizens, that’s a positive,” he said. “This is another organization that’s invested in the success of our kids.”

Thomas said participating in the essay contest “encourages students to think about their own concepts of what the liberties of the Constitution provide and guarantee, their duties as a citizen, and how it applies to their own life.”

Participants were each required to write 500 words.

Third-place winner Floerent said she got involved in the project because she said she wanted to “learn about the Constitution a bit better.”

Third-place winner Billings said her knowledge of the Constitution will make her a more informed voter when she turns 18. “It involved a lot of research,” she said.

Second-place winner Stuart said the project was timely. “… [I]t was part of our Constitution unit in Social Studies,” she said.

Third-place winner Grant said she was happy she participated.

School staff members and American Legion members said they were happy with the quality of essays submitted, and hope to include the essay contest part of Social Studies. They want to expand the project to all eighth-grade classes in the North Kitsap School District next year.

“The ideal situation is if every student participates,” Thomas said. “Our hope is to expand to all middle schools in the North Kitsap School District by expanding to Kingston next year.”

Turner, who took first-place for her eloquent essay, said the quality of essays may not be as strong if this becomes a required assignment.

“This was a challenge to keep it concise but expressive,” she said. “I thought this was an opportunity to do something extra, and while we all have the right to our own opinions, we need to focus on the importance of what the Constitution says.”

— Sophie Bonomi is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Contact her at sbonomi@soundpublishing.com.

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THE WINNING ESSAY

“The U.S. Constitution and What It Means To Me”

By Megan Turner

Poulsbo Middle School

In 1786, America decided the Articles of Confederation had to change. Congress brought together representatives from each of the 13 states to deliberate and decide on needed changes to the Articles of Confederation. The representatives made a new Constitution instead. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison all participated at the convention and helped write and endorse it.

The goal of the Constitution was to secure liberty and create a controlled government, which is stated in the Preamble. In the Articles of the Constitution, the founders laid out and restricted the powers the three branches of government hold. A big debate the framers had was about representation for the people. Men from the smaller states wanted equal representation so larger states wouldn’t dominate Congress, but larger states wanted proportional representation for their bigger populations. The result from many disagreements was the Big Compromise, which settled on a bicameral Congress.

To make sure that the federal government did not hold too much power, the framers added the Bill of Rights to the Constitution. The Bill of Rights are the first 10 amendments, which focus on keeping the people’s unalienable rights safe. The framers of the Constitution wanted America to be the land of the free, and my life has been better from it.

The Constitution has a huge impact on American society. It not only directs the structure of government, but also describes the powers the people possess and the rules they must follow in return. For instance, the Fourth Amendment prohibits anyone from searching someone without a warrant and probable cause, which stemmed from their displeasure with the Writs of Assistance. So, I know that I am safe from intruding searches. Americans are also given the right to a fair trial and impartial jury in the Sixth Amendment. The idea of innocent until proven guilty revolutionized the way punishment was enacted and still shapes our society today.

Since the Constitution affects the citizens’ lives so heavily, understanding its content is important.

In my life, the Constitution makes the things I want to do easier. The First Amendment, from the Bill of Rights, which grants freedom of religion, allows my family to attend church without fear. I love that the document that governs our nation lets people worship their religion freely.

In addition, I am grateful that the Constitution allows for amendment. Women 100 years ago could not vote, but the 19th Amendment allows me and any American citizen to vote at 18. This gives me a say in who I want to lead our country, and that is powerful. Furthermore, my family has the freedom to maintain a living, and everyone has the freedom of speech. If I wanted to express my belief in something, I could do so, even in a public school. Norman Rockwell depicts these rights in a powerful way through his four famous paintings.

The way the Constitution rules our land echoes through all aspects of American society and dominates the way its citizens live.