I had the good fortune to accompany our Brown County Junior High School team of students as they traveled to Washington, D.C., for the national We the People competition.

As we all know, our team finished as the runner-up in the country in their division of middle schools. We congratulate Rachel Carson Middle School of Herndon, Virginia, on winning the national championship this year.

As most of our readers are aware, Brown County Junior High School now possesses a three-year record of two national championships and now a runner-up, in addition to five consecutive Indiana state championships.

This is a quite a list of accomplishments in a contest of knowledge. We are extremely proud of this year’s team for a number of reasons, just as we are proud of the record over the past five years.

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We thank our community and the many organizations and individuals who contributed again to make this trip possible. It’s an expensive undertaking to raise all of the money, and the effort by our students, parents, community groups and community supporters was truly remarkable again this year.

Much credit for this fundraising effort goes to We the People teacher and coach Michael Potts, as well as our parents, all of whom have worked tirelessly to make the trips to Washington a reality. Each trip has cost in the vicinity of $35,000, and the fact that we can send a team of more than 20 students has been an accomplishment on its own merit.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say again how appreciative we are that our community has continued to support this effort. Thank you to one and all!

The We the People experience is an outstanding learning exercise. Learning about the U.S. Constitution, the operation of our government, the various powers, laws and court decisions place our students in a situation where they enter high school with superior knowledge of our system of government.

The specific example of having to answer opinion questions from judges, lawyers and educators requires our students to apply their knowledge and discuss why they think our government works in the manner it does and explain how they think it should work.

These boys and girls will enter high school with a confidence in their knowledge and presentation skills, which will serve them well. This knowledge and confidence will also serve our society well.

Public schools remain the only true government agency that instructs young people in the business of being productive citizens in a free society, where citizens have the authority to make decisions over how our government operates and are placed in positions of responsibility for the welfare of the entire world in which we live.

Having a thorough understanding of our system makes this responsibility extremely important. I have been able to witness directly how our students can apply their knowledge.

Beyond the competition, there is much to learn in and around Washington. Our students got to observe our government structures firsthand. They saw the White House, the U.S. Capitol and the U.S. Supreme Court. They observed the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights in the National Archives. We were given a tour by Rebecca Martin, a Brown County High School graduate who works for the National Archives. Thus, our students were able to view the seats of each of the three branches of the national government as well as the documents that give them their authority. Additionally, we saw the major memorials including the Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, King, World War II, Vietnam and Korea.

There were emotional moments. We observed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. We laid a wreath at the Indiana Column of the World War II Memorial. We visited George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, Virginia, and paid respects at President Washington’s tomb.

All in all this was a special learning experience for our students. They will have a lifetime of memories from this competition.

Most of all, I want to report that they represented Brown County and our state in exemplary fashion. They were ladies and gentlemen at all times. They were polite and respectful to the competition officials, to their competitors, to their hosts, and to their tour guides and driver. I was proud to be included in their group.

David Shaffer is superintendent of Brown County schools.