Present Your Country: Randolph-Henry students build their own
Published 2:00 am Saturday, September 30, 2023
If you had a chance to create your own country, with your own laws, what would it look like? That was the challenge given to students in Samantha Maxey and Maggie George’s Virginia and U.S. history classes at Randolph-Henry High. In September, the classes were tasked with creating their own countries and establishing detailed constitutions.
They began with learning about the events that led to the creation of the U.S. Constitution – the history of colonial times, the battle for independence, the failed documents that existed prior to the Constitution.
“We build in with all that prior knowledge,” Maxey said.
Once students had all the background information they needed for the assignment, they worked together in groups to demonstrate the importance and significance of a country’s constitution. Following a four-part rubric, students completed a preamble, articles, a bill of rights and a ratification plan.
What did Randolph-Henry students decide?
As the U.S. federal government has three branches of government that ensure a separation of powers, students designed their own structure: who makes laws, who enforces laws, who interprets laws, who leads the society and what powers do they have? In order to fully grasp this project, students had to think about laws and rights a country needs in order to function and to be successful.
“All citizens will have access to an attorney of their choosing in civil and criminal cases.”
Those aren’t the words of a founding father, nor is it a quote from the Sixth Amendment. This line was written by a group who named their country the “Safe Place.” In their country, money would not stand in the way of citizens getting what they need – or interfere with their constitution-given rights. The backing of most of their laws and reasoning, as noted by their title, is to ensure safety. Not just that their country was safe, but that citizens felt safe.
“Equality and safety seemed to be this group’s two big concerns. They were aware of equal education and equal access to things like healthcare,” Maxey said.
In times of war, residents of the Safe Place would provide housing for soldiers. The group also went with community meetings as a way of building local laws. Each city, county or town would gather to discuss the need for a specific law and then take a vote during the meeting about if it needs to be put in place or not, rather than waiting until another specific date like November.
Healthcare would also be free in this society, which would also give residents access to an attorney of their choosing for civil and criminal cases.
Others lean into US freedoms
Other Randolph-Henry groups leaned into freedoms guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, such as the right to free speech and the right to vote. Students found that freely expressing their opinions was a critical and necessary right that citizens should have.
“(They) analyzed why those freedoms were important, and (they) did think outside the box about what freedoms were important,” George said.
In addition, the group “JD’s Country” added several, such as free access to healthcare and the free ability to attend any college or university of a resident’s choosing. Residents would also have the right to take someone to civil court, to settle a disagreement.
Other groups, such as “The United Country of Pearl Prueville”, placed their focus on “the principles of self-love from within, honesty from within ourselves and self-worth within our souls.”
In addition to simply creating these laws, students had to critically assess potential problems that would arise in their country and tweak their laws to combat those problems. They also applied the knowledge they learned before the project and kept the past mistakes of the Articles of Confederation in mind.
Aftermath of the project
The final step of this project was to present and defend their country and constitutional elements on Constitutional Convention Day. Groups such as Safe Place, Kings, JD’s Country and Pearl Prueville presented their Constitution among students and administration. They then answered follow-up questions about their Constitution, defended their choices and laws.
From Maxey and George’s point of view, the Randolph-Henry students excelled with the assignment and proved their understanding and application of the subject matter with ease. As future leaders and decision-makers of America, students are uncovering the importance of democracy – and making alterations to provide an even better life for citizens.