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March 30, 2011

Kingston students tackle Constitutional issues

Kingston — KINGSTON — A congressional hearing took place Tuesday at Kingston Elementary School.

Fifth-grade students have been studying the United States Constitution and used that knowledge to present their findings to panels of local leaders.

As part of the We the People program, through the Center for Civic Education, students selected specific topics to present oral reports, then answered questions from judges.

Judges consisted of local officials such as State Representative Rita Smart, Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes, former Richmond Mayor Connie Lawson, Madison Circuit Judge William G. Clouse, Farristown Middle School principal Alicia Hunter, Madison County Schools Assistant Superintendent of Operations Marvin Welch and a representative from Congressman Ben Chandler’s office.

“This has been a year-long project,” said Debbie Murphy, who along with Terena Moore teaches social studies to the students.

While many high schools conduct a congressional hearing, Kingston is the only elementary school in the state doing one, Murphy said.

“We’ve been teaching them all about the Constitution and how it applies today,” Moore said. “We want them to formulate ideas based on what they know and what they have learned.”

Students were placed in groups of four or five and had to express their opinions on a specific idea using rehearsed notes.

They then had to use information they had learned during the program to answer a variety of questions from the judges.

Groups looked at areas such as whether or not congress should have the power to pass a bill to veto the president’s decisions, whether the Constitution should have been kept secret or made public while it was being written and whether the common good of the people or the individual rights of one person is more important.

Joshua Jones, 10, expressed his opinion that the common good of the people is more important than the needs of one person. When asked by Clouse if there were exceptions in cases such as torture, Jones replied that in a situation where an individual’s life is in danger from torture, he feels the individual’s rights should be more important than that of the common good.

“I learned that there are many amendments helping the rights of people and what they are,” Jones said of the project.

His group focused on the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia.

“We learned how they agreed on things,” he said.

Olivia Bowman, 11 and Nicole Mayton, 10, said they learned about the Federalist Party and those that opposed them, the U.S. Bill of Rights, Separations of Powers, common goods and checks and balances, among other things.

Hunter Megyesi, 11, was the first speaker of one of the first groups. He said he was nervous, but once he started talking, the information flowed out of him.

“I learned that talking in front of people about government can be fun,” he said. “I also learned to find my confidence.”

Classes will continue to study U.S. History throughout the school year.

Tim Mandell can be reached at tmandell@richmondregister.com or 623-1669 ext. 6696.

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