Sophia Vamvakas believes she is very fortunate to live in one of the
only countries in the world that protects its citizens’ natural
rights. Sophia, 11, and her classmates in Lisa Yim’s fifth-grade
class at Edison Elementary School now know about the right to life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For the past three months they
have immersed themselves in the study of the U.S. Constitution.
“We’ve learned how we can protect our rights, because if we don’t,
they can be taken away from us,” Sophia said.
On Friday, Sophia and other students in Yim’s class enacted a
simulated Congressional hearing titled “We the People ... The Citizen
and the Constitution.” The students were divided into five groups,
with each group discussing a different aspect of the Constitution,
including the purpose of government, the protection of peoples’
rights and responsibilities of citizens.
Nick Stratton and classmate Ally Syverud were both members of the
group discussing the powers of government.
“We’ve become experts about the three branches of govern- ment:
the executive, the judicial and the legislative,” Nick said.
Students also learned that the three branches were created so no
one area of government has too much power, Ally said.
After the children spoke, they answered questions from a
three-member panel, including Edison’s Principal Laura Flosi,
Roosevelt Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Laurie Pacino and
Yim’s husband, attorney Joung Yim.
Flosi was concerned that the students might only have gained their
knowledge from the text- book, but in the question-and- answer
period, she said the students’ own thoughts were well expressed.
The Center for Civic Education, based in Calabasas, awarded grants
to the district to offer the Constitution program to fifth-graders,
“They have much more awareness of what it means to be a citizen,”
Yim said. “Before, they didn’t understand, but now they have even
said, ‘America is too nice because we have so many rights, that
people can take advantage.’ ”