Understanding Constitution a part of curriculum
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Updated: October 28, 2012 6:04AM
HARWOOD HEIGHTS — It may have turned 225 years old this month, but the U.S. Constitution still is relevant.
And demonstrating a working knowledge of the document that forms the basis of American government is a requirement to graduate eighth grade.
Students at Union Ridge School in Harwood Heights spend several weeks breaking apart into its various components the document delegates signed on Sept. 17, 1787, said Dan Chambers, middle school social studies teacher.
Chambers’ students first learn about the American colonies and the Revolutionary War before moving on the Constitution.
“We spend several weeks breaking it apart, looking at the structure,” he said. “And we look at what it means today.”
His students learn the president, as part of the government’s executive branch, is not the most powerful office and that the legislative and judicial branches also wield power.
“It’s a matter of checks and balances, the relations among the three,” Chambers said. “One branch isn’t any more powerful than another.”
Julia Peters, social studies teacher at Pennoyer School in Norridge, likes to show students how to apply the tenets of the Constitution to their daily lives.
Peters’ students are studying the legislative branch in class.
“We had a Congressional simulation to see how a bill becomes a law,” she said.
Students split into the House and the Senate, then into committees, and then again into subcommittees. They addressed a proposal to change school hours, an idea suggested by student teacher Dan O’Leary.
While they addressed the same issue, they came up with different amendments to the bill.
“It went nowhere,” Peters said, noting the two sides couldn’t agree.
Chambers said students perk up when more modern issues come into play.
“The kids are fascinated that the Constitution, which was written over 200 years ago, hasn’t changed that much,” he said.
Peters said how the Constitution applies to their daily lives’ piques student curiosity.
“When they see how government affects them, that’s when they really pay attention,” she said.