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Constitution to be focus of attention at county schools

September 19, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

karenh@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - In elementary schools, children's birthdays often are celebrated with songs or treats.

The center of attention this month is 218 years old, and the date is so important that festivities could last two weeks.

In schools around Washington County, billboards are going up, and birthday greetings are added to the morning announcements. At Williamsport High School, parties are planned.

In an effort spearheaded by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., Congress last year designated Sept. 17 as Constitution Day. All schools receiving federal funds must teach students about the Constitution, which was signed Sept. 17, 1787, in Philadelphia.

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According to Clyde Harrell, Washington County Public Schools supervisor of secondary social studies, the school system always has included teachings about the Constitution in the curriculum, where it is appropriate.

"Everything our government does, it all relates back to the Constitution, and our students benefit from an awareness of that," Harrell said.

He is not aware of repercussions if schools fail to teach the Constitution, and he said there are no mandatory guidelines for what should be included in Constitution Day teachings.

Because the anniversary of the document's signing fell on a Saturday this year, schools planned to celebrate the Constitution either this week or last, Harrell said.

The Washington County Board of Education approved the school system's establishment of Constitution Day, despite the objections of board member Bernadette Wagner. Wagner argued the federally mandated holiday represented an imposition of the government upon schools, and she said lessons on the Constitution might be out of context for some classes.

Harrell said he knows of no teacher who has complained about fitting in the Constitution into lesson plans.

For North Hagerstown High School government teacher Steven Heller, the Constitution "ranks right up there with the Declaration of Independence and Independence Day."

Heller's classes have worked on displays about the Constitution for the hallways, so students who are not in government are exposed to the document's principles, Heller said.

At Williamsport High School, some of the Constitution's tenets are written across the stripes of an American flag display, and teachers are planning birthday parties, teacher Kim Hutzel said.

Though Hutzel's U.S. history class' curriculum starts with the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, Hutzel said she has no problem spending about 30 minutes toward the end of each class teaching students about the Constitution.

"I just think they should know where those rights came from, and what people had to do to get them," Hutzel said.

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