Constitutional Academy inspires student

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Don Arthur Johnson Jr. waits for soccer practice to begin on the nearby lawn at The Henry Ford. He attended the Constitutional Academy sponsored by the Bill of Rights Institute July 24 to 30 in Washington, D.C. After being chosen following a rigorous application process, he spent five weeks reading and studying founding documents to prepare for the event, spent a week in the Capitol, and submitted a paper afterward. His experience, which for him was funded by a scholarship from the Ford Motor Company Fund, earned him three transferrable college credits from Ashland University.

Sunday Times Newspapers

DEARBORN – Don Johnson Jr. had a capitol time in Washington, D.C. this summer.

The Henry Ford Academy junior received a scholarship from the Ford Motor Company Fund to take part in a week-long Constitutional Academy for high school students in Washington D.C.

The Constitutional Academy is a course offered by the Bill of Rights Institute in Arlington, Va., a non-profit organization that teaches young people about the constitution.

It combines five weeks of summer distance learning followed by a week-long event in Washington, D.C.

It gives high school students an opportunity to learn about the nation’s Founding documents while learning from college professors.

The Bill of Rights Institute Director of Communications, Rachel Gillespie, said 42 high school students attended one of two sessions this summer, which were held July 17 to 23 and July 24 to 30. Johnson attended the second week. The high school students stayed in dorms at Marymount University in Arlington.

Over the past five years the Constitutional Academy has served over 200 incoming high school juniors, seniors and college freshmen from across the United States, Gillespie said.

The selection process included student-answered essay questions and teacher recommendation letters. Each student was required to have a minimum 3.2 grade point average.

This summer the Ford Motor Company Fund provided full scholarships for 11 students, covering the $3,000 program cost as well as transportation to and from the event.

The students spent five weeks before arriving studying founding documents and selected writings by John Locke, John Adams, James Madison, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

While Johnson was in D.C. he attended lectures, engaged in lively discussions and debates, and visited historic venues.

The students viewed some of the actual founding documents during a behind-the-scenes visit to the National Archives.

Of the documents they studied, Johnson was most impressed by the Bill of Rights.

He was assigned to a group of four students who studied property rights more closely. The student study group looked at the Bill of Rights and the amendments to see which actually address private property rights.

The group focused on the third, fourth, fifth and 16th amendments, and learned how the judicial system protects individual property rights.

He said he relied on the Constitution heavily to write his five-page paper on property rights after attending the Constitutional Academy.

“We basically had to define it, show where it came from – the founding document – and show how it affects the people… and show what it can do when it’s in action,” Johnson said.

The students toured George Washington’s Mount Vernon home, where they learned about his role in crafting the Constitution.

They also visited Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, who authored the Declaration of Independence. They listened to several lectures while there about the formation of the judicial branch and about the Constitution.

In seminars at Marymount University, where they were housed, professors explained how our country was formed and explained the amendments to the Bill of Rights.

The students saw the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial as well as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall on the National Mall. They also saw the outside of the White House at night.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI-14th district) talked to them at the Capitol Building about how the government was formed and how voting works.

Johnson said he was also excited to briefly meet with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D–Lansing.

“We all went to go meet our senators, but a lot of (students) didn’t get to meet them because they were too busy,” Johnson said. “But I got to meet (Stabenow) for about two minutes. We had a really nice little conversation.”

Johnson is the only child of Jacqueline and Don Johnson Sr. of Detroit. He attended University High School in Ferndale (a public college-prep high school in partnership with Lawrence Technological University) during his high school freshman year until a spot opened up for him at Henry Ford Academy in Dearborn his sophomore year.

Johnson is part of the Accelerated Curriculum Experience or ACE Program at Henry Ford Academy, and plans to take senior classes during his upcoming junior year and Advanced Placement program classes during his senior year.

He felt the time he spent preparing for the seminar and writing the paper afterward was a valuable learning experience in addition to his week spent in Washington, D.C.

“My goal was to basically learn more about our government and how it was formed, and the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. And I got that knowledge by that program and I completed my goal.”