By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
RICHMOND — Kingston Elementary students were tackling some “heady” topics Wednesday during the school’s fourth-annual “We the People” event for fifth-grade students, said Glenn Manns, Kentucky state coordinator for the nationwide program.
“This exercise is not for the meek,” Manns said.
Kingston is the only school in Madison County and one of only a handful in the state to participate in the program, said fifth-grade social studies teacher Terena Moore.
Students, who have been studying constitutional democracy, were questioned by adult judges on historical and contemporary issues such as:
• Should prayer be permitted in public schools?
• When is it acceptable to limit religious beliefs?
• How does the U.S. Constitution protect freedom of expression?
• Do middle school dress codes violate freedom of expression?
Students also demonstrated their understanding of the basic purpose of government, gave examples of how democratic governments function and explained why framers of the U.S. Constitution thought it was important to share power and guard against tyranny.
All 110 fifth-graders, dressed in professional attire, rotated between five different sessions in four classrooms. Each presented a prepared speech, and judges had seven minutes to question the students. Students used their knowledge of the constitution to defend their rights in these simulated Congressional hearings.
Manns, who judges a lot of “We the People” programs, in middle and high schools as well, said the Kingston fifth-graders’ performance Wednesday was “an outstanding example of what kids are capable of.”
Clark-Moores Middle School history teacher Sharon Graves asked a panel of students, who will enter middle school next year, if the middle school dress code violates their freedom of expression.
Jayden Adams said it doesn’t because the policy protects the safety of others.
“If someone is allowed to wear baggy pants, it is easier to conceal a weapon,” he said.
A dress code also can reduce bullying, he pointed out, because “students would not be judged on what they wear.”
His classmate Nina Reynolds disagreed.
“For example, if Jayden liked basketball and he wanted to wear a basketball jersey and shorts, he couldn’t freely express himself,” she said.
Students also talked about when it was appropriate to limit freedom of religion, such as when it affects the safety of others. For example, when parents choose to withhold their child’s vaccinations because of religious belief, or when the Amish choose not to use reflectors on their horse-drawn buggies while on the road with motorists, one student noted.
Fifth-graders have been studying about the structure of government, the U.S. Constitution and the duties of all three levels of government for about a month, said Moore, who along with Debbie Murphy, teaches fifth-grade social studies and writing.
Five years ago, both teachers attended a week-long conference at Virginia’s James Madison University to learn more about “We the People” and thought it would be an excellent program to implement in their own school.
Moore hopes this exercise will make an impression on students and “inspire them to be better citizens, to be informed voters and to be leaders in their community,” she said.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.