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Chesy 5th graders take to the stage to learn about government

CHESAPEAKE — There are a lot of adults who have a tough time understanding the Constitution or the story of how it came about.

So imagine what it’s like to break those convoluted paragraphs in the document that starts out “We the People” into English a fifth grader will not just understand but remember. That was the challenge Veronica Angle, fifth grade social studies teacher at Chesapeake Middle School, was faced with.

But a few summers ago, she met that test and has created a tool for teaching the Constitution that gets the knowledge out there and is fun too.

“According to the state grade level, the kids have to know the importance of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution so I try to do a play about the Constitutional Convention,” Angle said. “Then I also have another play where they act out how the government works.”

In the first play, a students get to play George Washington, James Madison, Roger Sherman, all the big players of the day who had a hand in creating the kind of government the U.S. enjoys today.

“George Washington gets to stand at my podium because he led the convention,” Angle said. “James Madison gets a feather and paper because he recorded what was going on.”

The second play about the workings of the U.S. government has the students playing all the parts in the three branches: legislative, judicial and executive.

“I have a table with nine kids at it and they are the Supreme Court and they wear black trash bags for robes,” Angle said. “The President and Vice President wear ties and everybody in the Legislative Branch wears name tags.”

The inspiration for the first play came from a history book that was written on a fifth grade comprehension level.

“I thought I would try to make a play out of the book,” she said. “The first year they loved it so much I decided I would try to make up another play where it would show the constitution in action. I try to incorporate jokes into it. I guess maybe they like the activity level of what is going on, the active participation instead of sitting there and listening to me.”

Possibly this foray into playwriting may not be Angle’s last. Right now, she is brainstorming about another one where the fifth graders play different characters from history who get to be interviewed by a student version of the talk show queen, Oprah Winfrey.

“These plays took me a good part of the summer and each summer I try to work on some big project that I think the kids will enjoy,” Angle said. “I think I enjoy it as much as they do. I get excited knowing this is coming up.”