From Student to Teacher: Suzanne Kammerman Pays It Forward

Suzanne Kammerman’s We the People experience made a big impression on her. In fact, when she became a teacher, she decided to make it a goal to introduce the We the People program to her students.

Today, Suzanne is an AP United States Government and Politics teacher at Staples High School in Westport, Connecticut, and has sent classes to the National Finals. Suzanne was part of Mrs. Velms’s We the People team at Shelton High School, Shelton, Connecticut, in 1992-93.

As a high school student, Suzanne’s class attended the state and national competitions, where she created many fond and long-lasting memories, including being a part of the first class at Shelton High School to attend a state competition and win. She recalls more personal memories of participating in the national competition with her friends, spending time together in the hallway of the hotel, on the tour bus, and during the competition. Ultimately, her experiences with the program were the best memories of her high school career.

Years later as a high school teacher, Suzanne made it a goal to implement the We the People program in her school. She approached her department chair in 2013 about incorporating the We the People curriculum into one section of her A.P. U.S. Government and Politics class. He agreed and within a year they had a class learning the curriculum and competing in the state finals.

Suzanne says that starting the program at Staples High School has been one of the greatest achievements of her professional career. She finds it rewarding every year to get a new group of students eager to learn the content and ready to compete.

In 2020, the Staples High School team defied the odds at their state competition and placed first in December, unseating eight-time champion Trumbull High School, so the students were eager to go to D.C. to represent the state. Then Covid hit, and on March 11, Westport schools closed. That same night she received an email from the Center that the national competition in D.C. would be moved to an online format, and she had to deliver the crushing news to her students by email.

While it was clear that a virtual competition would take place, Suzanne was hesitant about the time commitment during a very stressful time. However, when she gave the option to her students, they jumped at the chance. Ultimately, the experience gave the students a sense of community and purpose that was necessary during uncertain times. Of course, placing fifth nationally and winning their division made all the hours of preparation using Zoom and Google Meet worth it. Suzanne told her students that someday when their grandchildren ask about the coronavirus pandemic, they will have a pretty cool story to tell them.

When asked why programs like We the People are important, Suzanne said that while civic education has always been essential, it has taken on even greater importance as our nation has become increasingly polarized and as civil discourse seems to have taken a backseat to partisan bickering.

Suzanne cited the benefits of the We the People program as an antidote to these problems, saying that it fosters an environment in which the students learn to respectfully discuss and debate the origins of our Constitution. She pointed out that the simulated congressional hearing format of the competition allows for a healthy exchange of ideas between the students and the judges. She said that the ability to take part in a robust discussion of controversial political issues is one that will serve students well throughout their lives as they become civically engaged voters.

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