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Grad coaches junior high civics team to national championship

May 20, 2013

Indiana State University graduate Michael Potts couldn't have asked for a better time to become coach.

Potts, a social studies teacher at Brown County Junior High School, spent the last two years working with the coach of the school's We the People team, which consists of eighth graders who learn about the U.S. Constitution and participate in state-level competitions. Potts took the helm for the 2012-2013 academic year, coaching the team to win the inaugural We the People national championship.

"They have to be up on current events, they have to know how to apply court cases, and it is really impressive to watch these kids who knew nothing coming into this class and who can now pull court cases out of their head," said Potts, who graduated from Indiana State in December 2004 with a master's degree in history. "It really is hard to believe that they are eighth graders."

In the We the People initiative, which is also a class, Potts divides the students into six groups to cover different units of the textbook focusing on the U.S. Constitution. In preparing for the competitions, each group researches and answers three opening questions in responses that cannot exceed four minutes.

During the competitions, each group gives two of their three four-minute introductions to answer questions posed by the judges. The students then have to answer questions posed by the judges that put elements of the U.S. Constitution into context, which requires the students to be knowledgeable about a variety of aspects of the U.S. Constitution, Potts said.

"Not only is it studying the Constitution, the founding documents," Potts said, "but it's also looking at court cases and a lot of current events and applying the Constitution to today."

The Brown County Junior High team, which consists of 22 students, even spent time before and after class to prepare for the competitions, which included the state meet in Indianapolis in December against 11 other schools.

The team did not learn about a national championship competition until the state competition, Potts said. After winning the Indiana title, the team was responsible for paying its way to the national competition in the Washington, D.C., area earlier this month.

The Brown County team quickly started raising the money needed for travel, collecting about $35,000 in less than two months. The group received strong community support, Potts said, including an autographed guitar donated by legendary musician and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer/songwriter John Mellencamp for a raffle.

"It was a pretty successful fundraising campaign," Potts said. "I have to thank the community here for that. They really stepped up. They've really been behind the We the People team."

Potts' experience at Indiana State was instrumental in developing his writing and editing skills, as the program was very writing-intensive, he said. He also developed his work ethic in the master's program, he added, which is another skill that he tries to pass along to his students.

"I think the biggest lesson they learned was work ethic," said Potts, who has also taught as an adjunct faculty member at Indiana State and Oakland City University. "Knowing that if we work hard, we put the time in, come in before school, work after school good things will happen."

It's been a busy year for Potts. Prior to the We the People team's national win, the Indiana State graduate won the school's teacher of the year award. In March, his wife and fellow Sycamore Abby (Petit) Potts gave birth to their first child, their daughter Presley.

"It's been a wild year," Michael Potts said. "No question about it."

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Media-Services/We-The-People/i-XWvcHvB/0/L/Capitol%20Dome%20Picture-L.jpg (Submitted photo)The We the People team from Brown County Junior High School, which is coached by Indiana State University graduate Michael Potts. The team earlier this month won the inaugural We the People national competition.

Media Writer and Contact: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or austin.arceo-negrich@indstate.edu