The four handwritten pages of the U.S. Constitution were the result of nearly four months of almost daily preparation cloaked in secrecy behind locked, guarded doors in 1787.
In observance of Constitution Day, students at Robinson Barracks Elementary/Middle School recently re-enacted the Constitutional Convention in a “reader’s theater” for about 100 students and parents.
Openly reading scripts and clad in partial patriotic costumes, students in Doreen Weinberg’s fifth-grade class breathed life into the centuries-old event in which the founding fathers hammered out the bedrock of America’s government between May and September 1787.
“We really learned how people behaved with each other while they were working on the Constitution,” said Rosa Benson, 10, who played the role of George Washington, convention president. “That George Mason was angry a lot,” Benson said of the Virginian who was passionate about individual rights.
Betty Roberts, RBEMS gifted education teacher, said Constitution Day was an opportunity for the students to look back in history and also see how the amended Constitution — though signed 223 years ago — continues to be a work in progress.
Weinberg said the observance was an opportunity for students to see their connection to the country’s past. “Understanding where we came from and what our founding fathers thought was important in this living, breathing document is an essential part of being an American,” she said.
Mary Jo Driscoll, a parent who was on hand to see her son Peter pull double duty as Thomas Jefferson and a narrator, said her 10-year-old’s study of the U.S. Constitution has made for some meaty dinner table discussion.
Driving the Driscoll dinner dialogue was the headline-making controversy surrounding a Muslim group’s proposed construction of a mosque and Islamic cultural center near the site of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City.
“We talked about religious freedom and the issue about the mosque at ground zero. It’s interesting how you can study history and apply it to current events,” Driscoll said.
Even before Constitution Day, students in RBEMS teacher Lori Lerner’s combined class of fourth- and fifth-graders created a classroom constitution. Upon reading the class’s document, however, fifth-grader Jackson Gilbert at first refused to sign the constitution, opting instead to author a bill of rights that he believed more clearly outlined the students’ individual freedoms.
Fourth-grader Tyrese Powell, 9, who edited Gilbert’s proposed amendments, said he supported the bill of rights because without it, the constitution “just wasn’t specific enough.”
“This can be abstract for this age group, but they’ve really grasped it,” Lerner said. “Now they’re desperate to learn about the American Revolution.”