Constitution Day presents high school opportunity for lessons

By Josette Keelor

At Stonewall Jackson High School in Quicksburg, Wednesday’s Constitution Day and Citizenship Day couldn’t be wrapped up in a single lesson. The national observances inspired a week of contests and discourse from students led by government teacher Holly Hoover.

“The most exciting thing about it is, well, two things,” Hoover said, anticipating the week’s events. “One is that the kids seem to be really, really embracing this.”

“As a teacher, one of the most amazing things you can see is kids getting excited about learning and celebrating our Constitution and its ideals,” she said.

The other exciting part has been helping students become productive and informed citizens, she said.

Classes participated in door decorating contests to be judged on Friday on the themes of the U.S. Constitution or citizenship. Also, each day this week during the school’s General Block from 11:37 to 11:57 a.m., students can call into the school library with answers to trivia questions they hear in a short “infomercial” on the Constitution. Each day’s winning class is entered into a drawing for a pizza party on Friday, sponsored by the social studies department and the Forestville Quicksburg Ruritan Club in New Market.

Cell phones aren’t allowed for the trivia contest, Hoover said. She wanted to “kind of make it a radio call-in contest, ’cause I thought it would get the students excited about it.”

“They have to use the phone in the classroom,” she said. “I wanted to make that clear.”

Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, observed each year on Sept. 18 or the closest weekday, was started in 2004 with the passage of an amendment by Sen. Robert Byrd to the Omnibus spending bill of that year.

Previously just called Citizenship Day, it remembers the day on which the Constitution was signed in Philadelphia in 1787 and now requires that all publicly funded educational institutions and all federal agencies provide educational programming. Other schools, like Stonewall Jackson, also have chosen to expand the day’s lessons into a week of activities.

Previously an English and history teacher, Hoover said medical concerns caused her to miss her first two weeks as a government teacher last year. That’s why this year’s Constitution Day and Citizenship Day are so exciting for her. That and the fact that this will be her 20th year as a teacher.

“This year I’m just really excited to put those ideas into action,” she said. Plus, she said she’ll enjoy teaching her seniors that she taught as freshmen in English.

It’s been “neat watching them grow up, so that’s just pretty exciting,” she said.

Following last week’s Patriot Day remembering the 13th anniversary of Sept. 11 and President Obama’s national address on terrorist acts in the Middle East, Hoover said now is an important time to be studying government.

In class, she talked with students and answered questions about ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) or ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), a jihadist terrorist group active in Iraq and Syria.

“The more knowledge that these kids have of what’s going on, the less fear they have,” Hoover said.

She and her students also watched the recorded presidential address and talked about the ideals and virtues of American democracy.

“And it was a great way for me to talk about the powers, his [Obama’s] powers as commander in chief, so events like that are certainly helpful,” she said.

So far, her students have shown her they care about what’s going on in the world.

“They’re just really embracing this at a time when people are so … I don’t know, it just seems like a time when students don’t value education,” she said. “I think we see things every day that can definitely counter that argument and this is a good example of that.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com