On the occasion of the signing of the United States Constitution in September 1787, Benjamin Franklin is said to have remarked on the half sun painted on the back of the president’s chair, “I have often looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting, but now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.” It was with this optimism that Franklin and a few dozen others forged a new nation that day in Philadelphia—imperfect but enduring, and the subject of the sixth grade’s introduction to U.S. history.
For the last six weeks, students have charted the evolution of America from a cluster of colonies to an independent nation through an intensive study of the events and documents that shaped our early history. On Friday, October 16, the class traveled to Philadelphia to visit the sites where the history happened. Excited and sleepy, students met the bust at 7 a.m. at Manhattan Country School to head out for the day. Accompanying the group was Maiya Jackson, Upper School director; Flannery Denny, Upper School math teacher; and parent chaperones Randi Cohen, Stephanie Collazo, (also co-chair of the Parents’ Association), Chris Kohn and Sharon Phillips.
The first stop was Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were drafted and ratified. Students walked the same cobblestone paths as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and heard the history of the building, which was originally the Philadelphia State House when Pennsylvania was still a colony. From there, the class walked along Independence Mall to visit the Liberty Bell and learn the history of its famous crack. Rung for presidents and abolitionists as well as to commemorate important national events, the Liberty Bell (along with the archeological remains of the first president’s house, which occupy the same site) is always a favorite stop on the trip.
Students and chaperones alike got their cheesesteaks on at Reading Terminal Market, a vibrant food market in the heart of Chinatown. Afterwards, the class headed to National Constitution Center (NCC), a museum dedicated to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Created under the Constitution Heritage Act of 1988 and dedicated under the Clinton administration, the NCC expands students’ understanding of how our government affects everyday lives of American citizens and helps them to draw connections between the principles of the Constitution and myriad historical episodes our country has endured in its long history.
The last part of the day was spent in small groups touring the Old City. Students and chaperones explored Ben Franklin’s printing press, Elfreth’s Alley (America’s oldest continuously inhabited residential street), Christ Church Burial Ground, the Arch Street Meeting House and the Betsy Ross House, where the first national flag was sewn. The trip wrapped up with a special treat at Franklin Fountain, a sweet way to end a wonderful day in Philadelphia.