Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Constitution Day: How to Meet Federal Requirements for September 17

Constitution Day is an opportunity for schools to help students increase awareness of and appreciation for the United States Constitution. While the goals of Constitution Day are admirable, it is an unusual holiday because schools are required to have activities on a specific date, which can be tricky to do in smaller districts that share resources such as guest speakers and assembly centers.

West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd helped change Citizenship Day to Constitution Day in 2004. In 2005, the Department of Education required that all educational institutions receiving federal funding commemorate September 17, 1787, which is the date of the signing of the United States Constitution. If September 17 falls on a weekend or holiday, schools must hold Constitution Day programs the preceding or following week.
Constitution Day Programming

While Congress legislated Constitution Day, there is not funding for Constitution Day activities. According to its notice, the Department of Education, "is aware that there may be other public and private resources available that may be helpful to educational institutions in implementing Constitution Day." Whatever activities schools decide on, they need to be done on September 17th.

The federal government has provided a Constitution Day activities that provides Constitution Day activities, and even if districts do not use these activities, they may help answer the potentially overwhelming question of, "What do we do if we can't get a guest speaker?".

Based on the government website, schools may want to provide activities that allow students to:

* learn about the original signers of the Constitution
* examine the motivations of the writing and signers of the Constitution
* understand the evolution of the Bill of Rights and Constitution
* discover how the Constitution provides unity for the states
* explore the boundaries and flexibilities of the Constitution.

To make the Constitution more accessible, schools might want to offer simplified versions of the Constitution, word-searches, crossword puzzles, games, and create classroom constitutions to help students understand significant concepts relating to the Constitution.
Read on

* The Controversial Fourteenth Amendment
* Homeschooling and the UN Rights of the Child
* The US Senate and the Vision of the Constitution

Additional Resources

Communities have a number of guest speakers that may be available to discuss how the Constitution impacts them professionally. Professionals involved in the legal system may be of particular interest to middle school, junior high, and high school students.

For schools that are not able to host guest speakers, Constitution Center has excellent resources that schools can purchase for their students, including pocket Constitutions, but be advised that they do not accept purchase orders, so it may be more difficult to order materials. As Constitution Day becomes more popular, more resources will sprout up online and be available to schools.

Despite the difficulties presented by having to hold Constitution Day on a specific date, honoring the Constitution is a valuable experience for students. They recognize Independence Day, President's Day, and Memorial Day, so it makes sense that they should learn about and appreciate the document that started it all.

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