Rachael Drenovsky on Constitution Day Program

By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

The Michigan Supreme Court Learning Center in Lansing will be conducting a program for Constitution Day on Sept. 16. The center has been educating students and citizens about Michigan's legal system for more than a decade. The 3,800-square-foot facility is staffed mainly by volunteers, who lead tours and work on special programs. Learning Center Coordinator Rachael L. Drenovsky develops tours, manages docents and staff and produces programs about the Michigan court system for teachers and students, including a summer moot court program for high school students. She has a master's degree in public history.

Thorpe: Tell us about the center.

Drenovsky: The Michigan Supreme Court Learning Center educates the public about the state's judicial branch of government. The center is filled with hands-on exhibits about the role and history of the courts and how court decisions affect citizens' everyday lives. On weekdays, we offer free, guided tours for groups by reservation, and individuals may come on a walk-in basis for self-guided tours.

The center welcomes a variety of visitors, including international groups, but most are school groups on their "Lansing trip." The center is often part of an itinerary that includes stops at the State Capitol and the Michigan Historical Museum. It's a great way for students and the adults that accompany them to learn more about Michigan history and government.

Thorpe: What do you have planned for Constitution Day this year?

Drenovsky: The Learning Center is offering Constitution-themed tours and activities. Student groups will reenact the Constitutional Convention through a brief play, and everyone will have the opportunity to sign the Constitution. Their excitement is amazing as students write their names under "We the People." In addition, there will time to look for references to the Constitution in the exhibits, and groups will meet with a member of the judiciary.

Teachers receive curriculum materials and a copy of the Constitution to help them extend their civics lessons into the school year. Ideally, every day should be Constitution Day in the classroom, so plan to make the most of this opportunity.

Thorpe: Is there really a federal law requiring teaching about the Constitution? Tell us about it.

Drenovsky: Yes. In 2005, Congress passed legislation (Publ. L. 108-447) mandating that educational institutions receiving federal funds hold an educational program pertaining to the United States Constitution on Sept. 17 each year. The observance commemorates the signing of the Constitution on that date in 1787. U. S. Code (36 U.S.C. 106) includes similar provisions for federal agencies and their employees. The mandate does not specify what should be discussed or how, and compliance is on the honor system.

Many courts and other organizations host Constitution Day celebrations, and they offer variety of resources online to help schools fulfill the mandate. There's everything from lesson plans about "close reading" the Constitution to a fun quiz from the National Constitution Center to decide "Which Founder Are You?" Constitution Day resources are featured each year in the summer issue of the Learning Center's educator e-newsletter. An archive of issues and a free subscription are available through our website (http://courts.mi.gov/education/learning-center/).

From conversations with students and teachers, I know that Constitution Day has made an impact. Learning Center tours throughout the year naturally include discussions of the Constitution. When students have difficulty recalling such information, teachers frequently prompt them by saying, "Remember when we talked about the Constitution back in September?" That usually gets the conversation rolling.

Thorpe: Is the Constitution Day program aimed at kids, adults or both?

Drenovsky: Most of our Constitution Day activities are planned with K-12 students in mind, but I believe that the adults accompanying students always get a lot out of it. We are also happy to host other groups, such as law students and adults. The activities would be slightly different, but the Constitution will still be the focus.

Thorpe: We know you rely a great deal on volunteers. How can people help?

Drenovsky: We simply couldn't serve all our visitors without an excellent team of volunteers. Most serve as docents and lead tours and assist with events like Constitution Day. Many docents have a background in the law, government, or education, but that's not required. As you might expect, the busiest times are during the school year, especially in the spring.

In the summer, volunteers with a background in the law work with high school students during a week-long moot court program. Law students and members of the State Bar of Michigan's Young Lawyers Section are particularly attracted to this opportunity.

To volunteer, an application form, background check, interview, and orientation are required. The next docent orientation will take place this fall, so I invite prospective volunteers to submit applications now.

Thorpe: Where can people go for more information?

Drenovsky: Information about Learning Center tours and events, resources, and volunteer opportunities are available online at http://courts.mi.gov/education/learning-center/ or by calling 517-373-7171.

Published: Mon, Jul 21, 2014