Several hundred high school students are in Washington, testing their knowledge of the United States Constitution in the final round of a nationwide competition.  The competition, called "We the People," refers to the opening line of the U.S. Constitution. It involves simulated congressional hearings where teams of students serve as expert witnesses.  The students are questioned on their knowledge of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights and are scored by judges.

More than just knowledge of the US Constitution

These high school students are experts on the U.S. Constitution.  They are on one of ten teams competing on Capitol Hill in the championship round of "We the people," a competition on the constitution and other founding documents.

Carly Shapiro from Connecticut says her team has been studying the constitution since last June. "I am ecstatic to make it this far," she said. "There are times it was very grueling and very hard, and I sacrificed other things for this, but once you get here this is all worth it."

The students are scored on their opening statements and their answers to follow up questions.

More than a debate

They must demonstrate their knowledge and defend their arguments on the spot.  The competition is similar to actual congressional hearings held in the same rooms.

Michael Pritchard, a student from Alabama, was asked tough questions about the Declaration of Independence. "They were really hammering us with questions, but I think we defended our point. Didn't give any ground," he said.

Naming a winner not easy

The panels included State Supreme Court judges, political science professors and  historians.

Margaret Branson has been a judge for 22 years.  She says it is necessary to provide the students with constructive criticism. "If you only say, you're great, you're great, you're great then students have trouble accepting, well why wasn't I the first place winner, and you've got to make a choice," Branson said.

Branson says the competition is a great way to get students interested in history and politics. "We spot a lot of potential leadership among these young people," she said. "We want to encourage them to go ahead and be leaders in their own communities, in their states, and in the nation."

The three school teams that score highest receive trophies. But many students said they are proud just to have reached the finals.