State Bar educational initiative launched in classrooms

As students across the state returned to the classrooms to kick off a new school year this August, the opportunity for attorneys to host a session of the State Bar of Texas project “I was the first. Vote for Me!” also began.

In Williamson County, Lisa Richardson joined forces with Wendi Lester-Boyd and Stacey Mathews, both fellow Williamson County attorneys, and Mya Mercer, principal of Old Town Elementary, to bring the program—and the importance of Celebrate Freedom Week and Constitution Day—to more than 400 first through fifth grade students. Pictured from left to right: Lisa Richardson, Richardson & Cechura, PLLC in Round Rock; Mya Mercer, Principal of Old Town Elementary, Round Rock ISD; Wendi Lester-Boyd, Wendi Lester and Associates, PC  

“I would love to be able to get this [project] into all the Williamson County schools,” said Richardson. “It’s an educational project that’s well-thought-out.”

Launched in July and inspired by Lisa Tatum’s election as the first African-American State Bar of Texas president, “I was the first. Vote for Me!” is a multimedia project that works to inform students about a series of historic leaders who were firsts, from Susan B. Anthony and Sam Houston to Cesar Chavez and Barack Obama. After students are introduced to each character by way of a colorful animation, they cast a vote for the “first” they believe a fictional school should be named for. The project incorporates lessons in reading, math, citizenship, and voting and aligns with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards for elementary students.

While leading her session, Richardson observed that the project’s way of delivering information about the Constitution and its founders was both educational and enjoyable, and students appeared to agree. 

“It was fun to have these fifth graders really start talking about all of these people,” said Richardson. “It seemed to start making sense as to who some of these people were and why this document was written. So it was hands-on for them.”

And that’s exactly why the program was developed. Jan Miller, director of State Bar of Texas Law Related Education, said that “I was the first. Vote for Me!” was designed to get students engaged and interested in the history and the importance of the figures. 

While Richardson’s group used the Celebrate Freedom Week materials, “I was the first. Vote for Me!” can be adapted for a variety of celebrations and recognitions, including Veterans Day, Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Law Day.

Richardson added that having attorneys lead the sessions was also great exposure to the field of law and an opportunity for students to ask about the profession.

If you are open to leading a classroom session, or know of students who would benefit from a presentation in their class, go to texasbar.com/iwasthefirst to learn more.

Texas educators selected for Teachers' Law School

Nearly 30 Texas educators have been selected to attend the Fifth Annual Teachers’ Law School, a three-day legal education program July 18-20 at the Texas Law Center in Austin.

Social studies and government teachers from across Texas applied to the program, which brings together more than a dozen of the state’s leading judges and lawyers who give presentations on aspects of civil and criminal legal systems at the state and federal levels.

 Participating educators are: 

Carol Anderson of El Paso, a 17-year teacher at Silva Health Magnet High School
Roger Azevedo of Plano, an 11-year teacher at Prestonwood Christian Academy
Andre Berry of Houston, a 12-year teacher at Alief Elsik High School
Randy Bilyeu of McKinney, a 14-year teacher at McKinney Boyd High School
Michael Buck of Arlington, a 17-year teacher at North Crowley High School in Fort Worth
Angela Buentello of Cedar Park, a 10-year teacher at Canyon Vista Middle School in Austin
Britine Burton of Arlington, a 15-year teacher at South Grand Prairie High School
Pepper Cruson of Hickory Creek, a 27-year teacher at Hebron High School in Carrollton 
Michael J. Gortz of Lewisville, an 18-year teacher at Shadow Ridge Middle School in Flower Mound
Luana Hanley of Corinth, a 15-year teacher at Marcus High School in Flower Mound
Jenny Hutchinson-Gonzalez of San Antonio, a 26-year teacher at Burbank High School
Margaret Irwin of San Antonio, a 23-year teacher at John Paul Stevens High School
Christina Johnson of San Antonio, a six-year teacher at Tom C. Clark High School
Lisa Lopez of Houston, a 17-year teacher at Alief Elsik High School 
Beverly Mathis of Helotes, a 29-year teacher at William H. Taft High School 
Kevin McCune of Richmond, a 23-year teacher at Lamar CISD
Kristin Pershey of Garland, a seven-year teacher at Austin Academy for Excellence
Andrea Pirtle of Conroe, a 14-year teacher at Oak Ridge High School
Craig Rabalais of Mansfield, a 16-year teacher at Mansfield Legacy High School
Jessica Rader of North Richland Hills, a first-year teacher at Trinity High School in Euless
Roger Rodgers of Coppell, a 13-year teacher at Trinity High School in Euless
Rebecca Rowland of Claude, a 13-year teacher at Claude High School
Cissy Smith of Corpus Christi, a 12-year teacher at Baker Middle School
Mary Stimson of Friendswood, a 23-year teacher at Alvin High School
Kristin Tamayo of Cedar Park, a 12-year teacher at Hendrickson High School in Pflugerville
Samantha Trimble of Arlington, an eight-year teacher at Lake Ridge High School in Mansfield
Pamela Tutt of Denton, a 10-year teacher at Lowery Freshman Center in Allen
Margaret Watson of Colleyville, a 32-year teacher at Trinity High School in Euless 
Demetria Westmoreland of Houston, a seven-year teacher at Shotwell Academy

Also known as TLS-Y5, the Teachers’ Law School-Year Five was piloted in Austin in 2009 and has become a national model for similar programs across the United States. TLS-Y5 faculty includes U.S. Appeals Court Judge Edward Prado, Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, and nationally recognized defense attorney Gerald Goldstein. Past presenters include Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, and legendary criminal defense attorney Richard “Racehorse” Haynes.

The program comes at no cost to the teachers. Food, lodging and travel are funded through scholarship donations from the American Board of Trial Advocates-Texas (TEX-ABOTA) and its Texas affiliates and the ABOTA Foundation.

“Texas is proud to be the birthplace for the Teachers’ Law School,” said Mary Dietz, president of TEX-ABOTA. “TLS has become one of ABOTA’s leading civics education programs and is now a model for our chapters around the country.”

The program is presented in collaboration with the State Bar of Texas and the State Bar’s Law Related Education Department.

Current, future civics teachers stage mock arguments at Texas Supreme Court

Current and future civics teachers from across the state got a chance to hold mock oral arguments Wednesday at the Texas Supreme Court.

About 30 teachers and education students from various Texas universities participated in the arguments as part of the Hatton W. Sumners Student Teacher Institute, part of the Institutes on the Founding Documents

In the past, the training program has included a visit with state Supreme Court justices, but this was the first year participants staged mock oral arguments, said Jan Miller, who directs the State Bar of Texas Law-Related Education Department. The program is designed to inspire social studies and government teachers to use hands-on teaching methods, rather than just rely on textbooks, Miller said.

Supreme Court clerks organized the oral arguments section of the two-day program. The mock case involved a lawsuit over whether an eatery could open inside a shopping mall if another restaurant already held a contract as the mall’s exclusive sandwich shop.

“The project came from me watching students go through this room and have no idea what’s going on,” court clerk Andrew Wynans said, referring to the school classes and other groups that regularly tour the court.

Even many adults don’t understand that Texas has two high courts—the Supreme Court, which handles civil cases, and the Court of Criminal Appeals, which handles criminal cases, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson told the educators.

Jefferson said he agrees with former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who cites a lack of civics education among the country’s biggest problems. 

“I think we should be doing everything we can to make sure our students know what America is really all about and how it works and how it came to be and what the deficiencies are as well,” Jefferson said. “And I think your interest in this subject matter will help educate them better than they would have been without this project.”

Pictured above: Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson addresses a group of about 30 current and future civics teachers from across the state Wednesday in Austin. Below: Educators participate in mock oral arguments organized by Texas Supreme Court clerks.

 

Oyez, Oyez, Oh Yay! Program to Receive National Award

The State Bar of Texas Oyez, Oyez, Oh Yay! program will receive the National Association of Bar Executives NABE/LexisNexis Community & Educational Outreach Award on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012, at the NABE Annual Meeting in Chicago. The award is presented to bars and related foundations for outstanding public service and law-related education programs.

The Oyez, Oyez, Oh Yay! Civics Resources for Texas Students and Teachers is an interactive web-based program developed by the State Bar of Texas Law-Related Education Department. It is designed to assist Texas students and teachers in preparing for the new Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards in government, history and citizenship.

Oyez, Oyez, Oh Yay! — a play on the chant “oyez, oyez, oyez” to call the U.S. Supreme Court to order — focuses on landmark court decisions that middle and high school students must know to be successful in their academic work and on assessment examinations. The program is an initiative of Immediate Past President Bob Black, who initiated it when he was president-elect in March 2011.

The primary component of Oyez, Oyez, Oh Yay! is a website — texasbar.com/civics — that provides resources and curriculum materials for teachers, downloadable court case summaries, multimedia resources, and links to interactive activities for students.

Congratulations to our Texas Citizen Bee winners!

The Texas Citizen Bee is a statewide civic education program and competition that offers teachers and high school students (9th-12th grades) a way to reach and study America's heritage. Students use an online "Study Guide" program created by the Bill of Rights Institute that covers the U.S. Constitution, important documents, people, issues, civic values and skills and a Bill of Rights Institute article/current events category.

This year's competition was held May 12 at the Texas Law Center in Austin.

This year's winners are listed below.

First Place
Region 7- Whitehouse ISD
Student- Asa Johnson- $1,000 Scholarship
Teacher/Sponsor- David Bell- $ 750 Award

Second Place
Region 10/11- Plano ISD
Student- Taylor A’Latorre- $750 Scholarship
Teacher/Sponsor- Tim Murray- $500 Award

Third Place
Region 10/11- Frisco ISD
Student- Kristina Morton- $500 Scholarship
Teacher/Sponsor- Patience LeBlanc- $250 Award

Fourth Place
Region 8- Chapel Hill ISD
Student- McKinley Terry- $250 Scholarship
Teacher/Sponsor Lily Svrcek- $250 award

Civic Conversation Award
Region 10/11- Frisco ISD
Student- Kristina Morton- $500 Scholarship
Teacher/Sponsor- Patience LeBlanc- $250 award