Upper Moreland Intermediate students awarded third place at Annenberg’s 10th annual Citizenship Challenge

5th grade Upper Moreland Intermediate School students from Amanda Gilman’s class were awarded third place in the 10th annual Citizenship Challenge, an essay-and-presentation competition sponsored by the Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement in partnership with the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

4th and 5th grade students across Pennsylvania submitted over 250 essay submissions. 11 finalists were invited to the National Constitution Center on January 18 where they brought their ideas to life in short skits and songs performed before parents, teachers, and a panel of judges.

The full question asked of the students read:

“The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights in the American Constitution guarantees individual rights and is a foundation for life in the United States.  In your own words, explain the amendment, its importance to Americans, and indicate which freedom you think is most important and why.”

The three-judge panel comprised former U.S. Treasurer Rosie Rios, now chair of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission; the Hon. Theodore McKee, a senior judge on the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals; and former Pennsylvania secretary of education Gerald Zahorchak.

The four winning entries all selected freedom of speech as the most critical. As the first-place team, Buckingham Elementary School’s 5th grade class, wrote: “Our class had lengthy debates over the merits of each part of the amendment. We were not willing to give up any of these rights and we talked a lot about how our lives would be different if any of these rights were taken away. The more we discussed, we realized that the freedom of speech was a necessary part for the other four freedoms. Freedom of Speech was like a foundation or starting point.”

The class essay continued: “If you don’t have free speech, then you won’t have a free press that isn’t controlled by the government. If you don’t have free speech, you can’t express your religious beliefs or protest the government. While the right to gather doesn’t 100% depend on free speech, we felt that the government would try to control gatherings if free speech doesn’t exist to make sure there was no anti-government talk. As a result, we feel that the Freedom of Speech part of the First Amendment to the Constitution is the most important right upon which many other rights build their foundation.”

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Photo: annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org