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'We The People' students to witness naturalization ceremony

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As part of a three-day program that includes state finals for a civics competition that the Indiana Bar Foundation oversees, students will witness a naturalization ceremony this evening in downtown Indianapolis.

Students from around the state who have been studying the U.S. Constitution this semester traveled to Indianapolis for the We The People mock congressional hearings competition. The competition for high school students started Sunday and wraps up today; the middle school portion of the competition takes place Tuesday.

As part of the high school competition’s closing ceremony and awards presentation, which begins at 5:15 p.m. today, students will witness about 40 immigrants from 22 different countries become U.S. citizens. U.S. District Judge Larry J. McKinney will officiate at Union Station in Indianapolis, where the competition has been taking place.

“These students are really just learning to become citizens themselves,” said Erin Braun, state director for We The People, in a statement. “This is their first time studying the Constitution and their rights and responsibilities. Witnessing the naturalization ceremony will help them understand what a privilege it is to be an American citizen.”

For the mock congressional hearings, teams play the role of expert witnesses on topics that are based on six units of study. Panels of judges, often including lawyers and other members of the legal community, play the part of congressional representatives and score the students on a variety of factors.

Following this month’s competition, the winning team will represent Indiana in Washington, D.C., at the national competition in April 2011. Since the program moved to the IBF, the winner of the Indiana finals has placed in the top 10 five of the last six years. The winner of Indiana’s competition in December 2009, a team from Munster High School, placed eighth in the nation in April.

Congress will fund the We The People curriculum for any school that would like to participate. For the last few years, the IBF budgeted for three dedicated staff members to help teachers and volunteers as needed, as well as organize institutes about the program for new and returning teachers and help with competitions on the local and state level.

Earlier this year, the IBF announced it would restructure its We The People program to comprise one dedicated IBF staff member with assistance from other staff as needed. As a result, starting next year, volunteers will be expected to take on more responsibility, and the IBF staff will focus efforts more on experienced teachers as opposed to cultivating new teachers. The IBF is also seeking volunteers to prepare the Indiana team for the national competition and to work with schools in their congressional districts leading up to next year’s regional and state finals.

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