ELKRIDGE – Marianna Stepniak knows why the Constitution is important.
“I think if we didn’t have that, England would take completely over,” explained the 10-year-old Rockburn Elementary School student. “But as long as we have that and some proof we’re not England’s people, I think we’re going to be free.”
The fifth-grader’s take on the Constitution was just one of many Wednesday at Rockburn Elementary in Howard County, where students, teachers and parents gathered for a red-white-and-blue-bedecked ceremony to celebrate America’s most famous document.
Schools across Maryland and the nation are expected to have similar events leading up to Saturday, the federally-mandated Constitution Day, which was founded by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., as a day dedicated to learning about the importance of the Constitution in American history. Byrd’s proposal became law in December and officially declared Sept. 17 – the anniversary of the Constitution – as “Constitution and Citizenship Day.”
“It’s important because it helps us remember the people who fought for our freedom,” said Myuran Seharaseyoon, 9, who recited the preamble to the Constitution with his fifth-grade class during Rockburn’s morning ceremony.
While there was no specific curriculum mandated, all schools are expected to develop lesson plans that center on the Constitution. In Maryland, each school was sent a written reminder with suggestions and resources for how to structure the day, but the curriculum was left largely up to individual educators, said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for Maryland’s Department of Education.
“The Constitution provides some of our nation’s bedrock,” he said. “The Constitution, Bill of Rights, kids can learn about at a fairly early age. There are some broad concepts where students can understand the country they live in.”
For example, in Calvert County principals will make a morning announcement today about the importance of the Constitution, followed by age-appropriate discussions in each classroom about the history surrounding the document, according to Scott McComb, supervisor of social studies for Calvert County Public Schools.
“It’s the world’s oldest and continuous Constitution, even though we are a fairly young country,” said McComb. “That says something.”
The 700 students at Rockburn got into the spirit a few days early in order to combine Constitution Day with lessons about the Sept. 14 anniversary of Maryland’s own “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which was inspired by the flag flying above Fort McHenry in Baltimore in 1814.
The school’s early Constitution Day also focused on remembering the victims of Sept. 11.
Eileen Bottamiller, vocal music specialist at Rockburn, organized Wednesday’s event, which included a special recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance with sign language and the song “You Are Our Heroes,” by Teresa Jennings, in memory of Sept. 11.
“With everything going on in the country, I think the president is aware that we need to be more aware of what the rules are, how America was formed,” Bottamiller said. “I believe we really do need to relearn or awaken some of the founding words that the country was founded on, especially the national anthem.”
While many students at the kindergarten-through-5th-grade school are too young to fully understand or even remember the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bottamiller said most students know “that’s when something happened in New York.”
Rather than focusing on the sadness of the anniversary, Bottamiller focused on teaching students “what it means to be a hero.”
“It means we have to always be brave. You can’t think about yourself and you have to think about other people,” said 10-year-old Stepniak, who pointed to those on the planes on Sept. 11 as examples of heroes. “There was some bad guys on the plane and I think it would take a lot of courage to try and get off the plane.”