For fifth graders, the U.S. Constitution can be a pretty dry subject.
When the information comes from ladies who look like they might have been there when the Constitution was ratified, kids tend to pay a little more attention.
Members of the Casa Grande Valley Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) visited Maricopa schools during Constitution Week. They arrived in the common middle-class dress of the 1780s, hand-sewn dresses with mop caps or bonnets.
During a typical visit, children don’t just stare when they encounter them on campus; they make a beeline for them to ask questions. In the classrooms, DAR provides a PowerPoint presentation on the revolutionary period in U.S. history and hands out copies of the Constitution.
“They’re so curious. They ask the smart questions, so they have some knowledge,” DAR member Jan Klein said. “Unfortunately this unit comes up later in the year for schoolteachers, but we are giving them a prep by giving the books. The teachers appreciate the fact that we’re here at this time.”
Tuesday, they spoke to seven classes in Butterfield and Pima Butte elementary schools.
“Everybody that’s come visiting from Casa Grande that I’ve been with over the past few years has always been impressed with our Maricopa schools and how good our kids are,” said Maricopan Lucy Akers, a native New Yorker who was a school principal in Wyoming.
The first question they received from a Butterfield student was whether Benjamin Franklin was from Pennsylvania (yes). But kids also ask about the clothes. Klein said they explain what “mop hat” is, which inevitably leads to a discussion of 18th century hygiene.
“They didn’t take baths,” Akers said. “[The students] just can’t imagine not taking a shower every day.”
“And they had dirt floors,” Klein said. “It was hard to stay clean.”
DAR works with Maricopa Unified School District to meet its curriculum guidelines.
“We talk about history. We talk about how the colonies were formed, what led up to the Constitution,” Klein said.
“We took the standards and then tried to water it down into this small presentation, but to meet those standards so we’re not wasting anybody’s time,” Akers said. “And the teachers have said it’s effective because when they go back and do it, they remember us in our funny clothes. That’s why we dress like this.”
DAR member Ellen Lynn made her own dress and apron. Akers had a friend make hers. When her mop cap went missing, she made her own bonnet.
But their main aim is to spread patriotism. DAR hands out cards with the American Creed and Pledge of Allegiance, encouraging students to talk to their parents about the precepts. During an election year like 2016, they also ask the kids to encourage their parents to register to vote.
“This is the right we were given because we have a Constitution that was written 300 years ago and is the oldest constitution in the world still in force,” Klein said. “Such foresight they had back then that we should pursue happiness.”
On the back of the Constitution booklets they hand out is a line for a signature. “We encourage them to sign their names on it,” Lynn said. “That gives them ownership.”
The U.S. Constitution was completed Sept. 17, 1787, and ratified June 21, 1788.
“The Constitution Week was started in 1956 by President Eisenhower, and DAR has picked it up since then,” Akers said.
Many DAR women who make Constitution presentations are retired teachers who know how to relate to children. Akers has her doctorate in education. Klein wrote the script the DAR women use in their classroom presentations.
Members of DAR must have an ancestor who contributed to American independence during the Revolutionary War. Lynn helps prospective members verify their genealogy. The local chapter raises funds to pay for all of the materials it distributes to schools during Constitution Week. During the year, they host an essay contest, have an Arbor Day celebration, work with veterans and provide active-duty personnel and their families with a variety of supplies.