Hickman student selected to participate in 2008 Congressional Academy

Tuesday, July 8, 2008 | 7:21 p.m. CDT; updated 4:54 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Hickman High School senior Adithi Vellore experienced a novel connection to the past during a visit to Independence Hall in Philadelphia last Thursday.

“It’s a little bit surreal — standing in the same room where they debated the content of the Constitution,” she said in a phone interview Saturday.

Vellore is one of two Missouri high school students chosen to participate in the 2008 Congressional Academy, a 12-day program coordinated by the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio, which focuses on American history and civics. Ashland University was given funding from the U.S. Department of Education to offer the program for three years. This year is the first.

Accepted students, two from each state, will earn three hours of college credit discussing the content of historical documents while visiting historical sites in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Gettysburg. Students are chosen on the basis of grade point average, scores on standardized tests and an essay.

Vellore learned about the opportunity from John Deken, her Advanced Placement U.S. History teacher at Hickman High School. Her love of history compelled her to further research the program and eventually to apply.

Vellore’s mother, Anantha Gopalaratnam, said her daughter was a bit surprised and happy to learn she had been accepted to the program.

“She knew the program was open to all students in the country, so the odds were pretty narrow,” Gopalaratnam said. “She was quite thrilled.”

While participating in the program, Vellore and the other 99 students will study three pivotal points in America’s history: the founding era, the Civil War and the civil rights movement.

Academy coordinator Lisa Ormiston said the program gives students the opportunity to learn through experience and discussion of actual documents rather than textbooks and lectures.

While studying the founding era, students discussed how principles in the Constitution have been tested over the years and have either changed or have been reaffirmed. Vellore said she felt “a slightly more personal connection to the past” when discussing how the Constitution is interpreted today.

“Understanding of those principles comes full circle when you study the actual documents,” she said.

Before leaving for Washington, D.C., selected students were given a list of readings that Vellore’s mother called “a pretty involved set of books.”

“Definitely not light reading,” she said.

Vellore, who said she probably will pursue a degree in anthropology, loves learning about people and cultures and how they develop.

“I never think about studying American people as we are today, but there is an undercurrent of history,” she said.

Gopalaratnam is excited that her daughter has been given the chance to study American history in such a stimulating way.

“Linking the actual place with what they are studying will be a more real connection,” she said. “It is a wonderful opportunity.”

Students involved in the Congressional Academy have now begun studying the Civil War era with a trip to Gettysburg and will cover the civil rights movement before returning to their respective states July 11.

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