Would the average high school student know the reason why the 15th, 19th, 23rd, 24th, and 26th amendments were added to the U.S. Constitution?

What about the name of the publisher of the 1734 weekly journal who was charged with seditious libel for publishing articles critical of the royal governor of New York?

Or which Fourth Amendment rule now applies to state courts as a result of the Supreme Court’s 1961 decision in Map v. Ohio?

The typical adult might not even possess those answers, but Boerne Champions High School senior Alexandra Purchatzke knew the correct responses: expanding voting rights, John Peter Zenger, and the exclusionary rule.

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She answered all three questions correctly during the championship round of this year’s Texas Citizen Bee, a civics-focused competition for high school students. Similar to a spelling bee, Citizen Bee places an emphasis on teaching students American history and civics lessons so they can be more informed citizens.

Competing against 19 other students who won regional competitions around the state, Purchatzke was asked a total of four oral questions last Wednesday, focusing on current events, people, documents and cases, and the Constitution.

Purchatzke was one of the few students who answered all four questions correctly. Judges combined the answers from the livestreamed competition with responses on a 35-question multiple-choice test taken the day before. Purchatzke’s performance secured a third-place win and a $1,000 prize.

Boerne ISD students have participated in the Texas Citizen Bee competition since 2013, government teacher Kim Grosenbacher said. Previously, last year’s fourth-place finish had been the best result achieved by a Boerne ISD student.

But winning a prize is not the only aspiration for Grosenbacher, who discovered the competition, through Law Related Education, an organization that encourages civic education.

“Their whole goal is just to instill civics in our future generation and as a government teacher, that’s my goal too, because I have a passion for the subject I teach,” Grosenbacher said.

Boerne ISD government teacher Kim Grosenbacher. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

That might be an understatement – Grosenbacher said her passion for government and civics education drives many aspects of her life in and out of the classroom. Before she was a teacher, she studied political science at school and worked a corporate job after.

When she had kids, Grosenbacher wanted a career change, opting to find a job that allowed for more time with her family. That decision led her to teaching, and government was the easy choice for what subject she’d teach.

Outside of school, Grosenbacher serves as an election judge, bringing the lessons she learns at poll sites in Kendall County back into the classroom. Citizen Bee was a natural progression because it allowed the students who were passionate about government another way to learn and use what they know.

“It just grew with me and ignited in me a passion I didn’t even know I had,” Grosenbacher said. “And when the kids want to learn it, that’s when I really get excited.”

Citizen Bee operates with two rounds of competition: First, teams form at individual schools, then they compete in 20 regional challenges across Texas. The winner of each regional round moves on to the state championship where the top three competitors and their sponsors receive monetary prizes for their work.

In San Antonio, the number of interested students has waxed and waned over time with numbers dipping in recent years. Grosenbacher’s participation reinvigorated interest, and this year, her students competed against peers from Highlands High School in San Antonio ISD at the regional competition.

Students receive a 177-page guide to prepare for the competition and the curriculum aligns closely with social studies courses in high school, Grosenbacher said.

The hardest part is finding students who want to put in the time, the Boerne ISD teacher said.

Purchatzke was one of the students Grosenbcaher managed to convince this year.

“She’s a very quiet and very intellectual student that I had for the first time this semester in class,” Grosenbacher said. “I realized she’s just this driving force, and – I just learned this – but she’s actually our valedictorian.”

The high school senior was already involved in a mock trial, where Grosenbacher was a teacher-sponsor. The two connected there, and Purchatzke got involved with Citizen Bee soon after.

When the high school’s team would practice together, Grosenbacher noticed Purchatzke was the most prepared.

She began studying for the competition in March, taking a day or two each week to flip through the study guide. Purchatzke felt she was building off what she already learned in AP U.S. History and AP Government.

“I like how it is very relatable, and you can tie everything to what is happening today,” Purchatzke said. “I feel like I can connect with anyone I meet by talking about current events and the Constitution and the legality of certain government actions.”

Last Wednesday, judges rewarded the high school senior’s work – she’s the new record holder for the best outcome at the state competition in her school district.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.