In an open classroom at a Southeast school, 11-year-old Darrell Payne raised his hand to say, "People who break the rules should get punished."

His classmates agreed. Darrell and his fellow students in Patricia O'Neal's U.S. history class at Friendship Educational Center were assigned to think of rules to contribute to what would become the class constitution.

Because this year marks the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, O'Neal decided it was appropriate for the students to write their own version to help them better understand the U.S. document.

"I felt like I was at the table with the people who wrote the U.S. Constitution," Darrell said.

The fifth graders in O'Neal's class said that when students break a rule written in their classroom constitution, they should forfeit a recess period to "sit on the stool and write paragraphs."

However, that punishment is incurred only by students who offend the school bylaws.

Article I of the students' constitution lists the following rules: Be kind to your classmates; never fight in class; do not gossip about others; share with others; give others warm fuzzies (compliments).

"Sometimes it helps for students to be able to identify with what they're learning," O'Neal said. The constitution project "helps children to understand that everybody has to abide by the rules," she said. "They learn to appreciate rules when they help make them."

After helping write the class constitution, Saupuni Aiava, 11, said she would like to become a congresswoman because she likes making rules.

Classmates who break a law written in the class constitution should "stay in after school, stand in the corner or get suspended," said 11-year-old Radeesha Brown. "We should have a committee to decide the punishment a student should get."

According to Darrell, "If we didn't have rules, everyone would just run around doing whatever they want."

O'Neal said that as part of the lesson, her students learned the preamble to the Constitution and learned the Pledge of Allegiance in sign language.

"They've become very aware of the importance of unifying," O'Neal said. "They understand that groups of people must have rules and regulations to follow in order to live in peace."

The other students who signed the preamble were: Cornelia Barton, Steven Bennett, Alfonzo Breckenridge, Sherrey Bumpers, Michael Carpenter, Wallace Freeman, Shontaye Harris, Eugenia Jackson, Tamika Jenkins, Leandra Lewis, Lashawn Nickens, Charles Parks, James Pickeral, Thomasine Randolph, Lorine Simon, Natia Smith, Tamara Smith, Dolphus Sutton and Howard Thomas.