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Students get civic lessons
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Fifth graders, from left, Rachael Smith, Morgan Jones and Jacob Bailey from Rebecca Smith’s class, stand in front of campaign buttons they and classmates designed. - photo by Photo provided.
Kathleen Valentine’s fifth grade gifted resource class at Joseph Martin Elementary has been studying the branches of the U.S. government.
The government has three main parts; the legislative, executive and judicial branches. Each branch has equal power and helps balance the other two. This is known as checks and balances.
The legislative branch is quite an interesting item to study. It is comprised of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate includes two people from each state which totals 100 Senators for the United States. The number of representatives each state is allotted for the House of Representatives is based on a state’s population. There are a total of 435 representatives. Both the Senate and the House vote to decide if a bill should become a law.
In our class, each group proposed a new bill that it thought would make a good law. The issue was then researched for facts to back it up. Next, each group presented its bill to the class along with the researched facts. The class voted on whether the bill would make a good law and also whether enough facts were presented to support it.
The executive branch includes the president and his/her cabinet. The president has many jobs, including signing a bill into law. He/she is responsible for designing programs to address national problems, administering American policy, enforcing federal laws and creating and executing the federal budget with the approval of Congress.
In class, each group selected a historical or present day person it thought would make a good president. This individual was researched, and information was used to conduct a presidential campaign. Each student composed a creative slogan for their candidate and designed a campaign button. Some students wrote campaign songs for their candidate. Some students also composed a creative slogan for themselves and designed their own campaign button.
The judicial branch contains the Supreme Court and all the lower courts. The Supreme Court not only has power over all the other courts in the U.S., but it also has the right to decide if a law is constitutional. The court system includes many people including the judge, the jury, a bailiff, a court reporter, lawyers, a plaintiff and a defendant.
There are two different types of cases: a criminal case and a civil case. In a criminal case a defendant has been accused of a crime, and if convicted, may serve time in jail and/or be fined. In a civil case a plaintiff brings suit against a defendant for suspected damages done.
In a jury trial the jury, which usually consists of 12 people, decides the innocence or guilt of the defendant. Because of this, everyone should take jury duty very seriously and consider it a privilege and a responsibility for living in our great country.
In class, we focused on the many issues involved in the court system. We talked about how accurate the television shows we see are. O.J. Simpson’s trials were discussed, as we learned about criminal and civil cases. Students discovered the reason our country promotes that an individual is innocent until proven guilty.
One of the most important things we gained from our study is that the law is not always black and white, but there is much gray area. Our study of the judicial branch concluded with a guest speaker Craig Stafford. He talked about his job and answered questions for us. We really enjoyed his visit and appreciated him sharing his expertise with us. 
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