Lessons from Constitution Day
by Colin Walker
"Can any of you run for Senate?"
"Yes!" came the enthusiastic response from McMeen Elementary fifth graders.
"No," replied Connie Smith, an attorney with Fairfield and Woods, her response grabbing their attention. "None of you is 30 yet!" And so went the dialogue during Constitution Day, as fifth and eighth graders learned about the Constitution from volunteer attorneys in the Denver area.
Smith, along with two other attorneys from Fairfield and Woods, engaged 100 fifth graders for three 45-minute learning sessions that sounded more like a fun-filled exchange than a civics lesson. Colin Walker, one of the three attorney volunteers, brought a gavel to keep order with his 25 students, but it was not needed. The students had prepped for the session and were eager to surprise Walker with their new knowledge of the three branches of the government, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. Jack Tanner, the firm’s third volunteer, arrived dressed for success, with a red, white, and blue flag tie. Prior to Constitution Day, Jane McFadden, a McMeen fifth-grade teacher, had identified her students and three other classes to participate with the attorneys. All over Denver similar learning was occurring the week of Sept. 12.
Constitution or Citizenship Day, observed on Sept. 17, commemorates the date when delegates of the Constitutional Convention signed the U.S. Constitution in 1787. When the date falls on a weekend, as it did this year, another date is selected during Constitution Week, the five school days in September dedicated to commemorating the adoption of the Constitution. The purpose of Constitution Week is to promote study and education about the Constitution, and Constitution Day is set aside specifically by each teacher as a day to educate their students about the importance of the Constitution.
This September marked the sixth year that the Denver Bar Association has matched volunteer attorneys with Denver Public Schools to talk with students about the Constitution. To ensure a strong program, the DBA worked with Liberty Day, a nonprofit organization that provided each child with a red-white-and blue pencil and a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution, and provided their teachers and lawyer volunteers with instructional materials. There were 1,553 students taught by volunteer attorneys—1,058 elementary students and 495 middle school students.
"It was fun to figure out what information would engage them," said Smith, who did her homework to prepare a lesson plan. She found a wonderful website, icivics.org, beforehand that inspired her. The project was created by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to teach children civics. The site is engaging and informative, exactly the same qualities that these three Fairfield and Woods lawyers strived for with their classes. According to students and teachers, Constitution Day did just that. D
Colin A. Walker focuses on trials and litigation, particularly employment law, landlord/tenant, construction, intellectual property, securities, and real estate-related litigation, at Fairfield and Woods. He also counsels clients on employment policies and practices.