EIC Column: Afton Lakeland Elementary demonstrates civic efficacy

Photo by Hannah Sween
Immediately after receiving their pocket Constitutions, many of the fifth-graders at Andersen Elementary dove straight into the document to check it out. When asked why it was important to have documents like the Constitution, one student responded that “I think they’re mostly to keep us civil and not in chaos!”

As his class flipped through the brand new pocket constitutions they had just received, one boy recited the preamble to their very own Constitution, “We the P.I.E.sters, in order to form a more perfect fifth grade, establish leadership, ensure learning, provide for our classmates, promote kindness, and secure safety and responsibility to ourselves and others, do ordain this Constitution for the P.I.E. five classroom.”

On trend with the rise in civic engagement in American youth, the Afton-Bayport-Lakeland Lions Club recently donated pocket Constitutions to all the fifth-grade students at Afton-Lakeland and Andersen Elementary.

Too often youth become disillusioned by the negative political ads and rhetoric so prominent in American politics. Fostering a sense of civic duty and encouraging civic engagement through education is essential to promoting and protecting democracy.

“Already whether they know it or not, they’re thinking about constitutional issues,” lawyer and member of the ABL Lions Club, Tom Triplett said.

At Andersen Elementary this school year, the fifth graders have spent a lot of time learning about United States History and have also grappled with what the Constitution means to them and how it applies to their lives by drafting their own constitution and creating their own bill of rights for the classroom.

“The right to bear arms is a really interesting one because we have students who have hunters. You know they have their grandparents, or their dads or uncles hunt and so that’s something they’re interested in. But then there are others who totally, in their family household, do not believe in having guns,” fifth-grade teacher at Andersen Elementary, Roxy Humphrey said about discussing the Constitution with her students. She added, “the right to free speech is always one that generates a lot of conversation” because kids fear that their rights are being infringed upon when an adult asks them not to use certain words.

The earlier we start and give them the understanding and the tools to understand, then I think the better prepared they’ll be to go in their future. And as they get older, to have a greater impact on them themselves.”

— Roxy Humphrey

Though they may have a vague understanding about certain pieces of the constitution, for example, amendments one and two, the negative political rhetoric presented to the public, regarding these topics in particular, discourages youth from being politically involved. From 1976-2005, an average of only 44 percent of high school seniors trusted their government officials.

“When you understand history, and you understand what happened in the past, you can learn the good, the bad, and the ugly, and you can take what actions what was happening beforehand, and the actions people took to make sure that our world became a better place when they say they’re Americans. What does that mean? The earlier we start and give them the understanding and the tools to understand, then I think the better prepared they’ll be to go in their future. And as they get older, to have a greater impact on them themselves,” Humphrey said. 

Education is at the crux of the issue. Inaccurate information leaders to misinformed future voters. Promoting a sense of occasion and pride in the American system at a young age, as the ABL Lion’s Club and the teachers at Andersen Elementary are trying to do, leads to citizens who are more likely to have high political efficacy and a sense of civic duty.

“The more we can get them involved as citizens and understanding how citizens and government work, then they’re going to be more balanced in their own mindset, as an American,” Humphrey said.