EDITORIAL: Celebrate the Importance of American Freedom

By Trey Apffel

The Constitution is a crucial thread in the fabric of our country’s history. As former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once said, the Constitution changed world history “for the perpetual benefit of mankind. In 1787, no country in the world had ever allowed its citizens to select their own form of government, much less to select a democratic government.”

Although the Constitution was written long ago, the founding document still plays a significant role in our daily lives as it guarantees the precious liberties and fundamental rights for all U.S. citizens and puts “governance in the hands of the people.”

 In 2001, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 1776, which established Celebrate Freedom Week. Texas public schools are encouraged to spend the week focusing on the importance of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, in their historical contexts. Local school districts honor Celebrate Freedom Week during the week of Sept. 17, Constitution Day, to commemorate the signing of the historic document in 1787.

Along with our profound freedom comes the responsibility of increased civic education and citizenry. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt expressed the urgency of educating our prospective leaders in justice and civic involvement: “Our children should learn the general framework of their government and then they should know where they come in contact with the government, where it touches their daily lives and where their influence is exerted on the government. It must not be a distant thing, someone else’s business, but they must see how every cog in the wheel of a democracy is important and bears its share of responsibility for the smooth running of the entire machine.”

Civic education is important to society because civic virtue fosters engaged citizens who understand our democracy and the liberties the rule of law protects. Ensuring that our children receive a solid foundation in civics is essential to producing the next generation of responsible citizens in our communities.

In the spirit of Celebrate Freedom Week, the State Bar of Texas offers resources designed to help educate the public about the law. The State Bar’s Law Related Education (LRE) Department has helped train over 6,000 educators on civic education programs and curriculum by using technology that will captivate and prepare students for responsible citizenship.

Through the department, teachers and students in elementary, middle, and high school are able to experience the interactive, Web-based programs I was the First. Vote for Me! and Oyez, Oyez, Oh Yay! in preparing for the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards.

I was the First. Vote for Me! engages students through animated historical figures such as Susan B. Anthony, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. Students and teachers can access this interactive program in English and Spanish at texasbar.com/iwasthefirst.

Oyez, Oyez, Oh Yay! focuses on landmark court decisions Texas students must know to prepare for assessments in the U.S. government and history. Students and teachers can search case summaries, watch short films, and find other helpful resources at texasbar.com/civics.

Lesson plans focused on Constitution Day, interactive games, and civic education resources can be found at texaslre.org.

As we celebrate the Constitution, let us not only enjoy the rights and freedoms that we have as American citizens, but let us be accountable in educating our youth on the importance of our founding documents to ensure that democracy lives on. The values that are crucial for our system of government can only prevail if sustained by future generations.

Trey Apffel is president of the State Bar of Texas and the founder and owner of Apffel Law Firm in Galveston. He may be reached via email at statebarpresident@texasbar.com

 

Texas Law Center hosting student teacher institute

The State Bar of Texas is hosting 26 student teachers for the 17th annual Hatton W. Sumners Student Teacher Institute today at the Texas Law Center in Austin.

The invitation-only institute is offered to student teachers who have attended a previous Hatton W. Sumners Institute. Participants include current university students from across the state, recent graduates about to embark on their first year of teaching, and teachers who have already completed one year in the classroom.

The two-day program, which is broken into elementary and secondary tracks, covers topics such as the principles of the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, eras of history, levels of government, citizenship, and more. Participants will also have the opportunity to tour both the Texas State Capitol and the Texas Supreme Court.

For more information about the institute or other law-related education programs, visit texaslre.org or call (512) 427-1820.

State Bar of Texas education project wins national award

A State Bar of Texas project educating elementary students on important firsts in U.S. and Texas history has been awarded a National Association of Bar Executives LexisNexis Community and Educational Outreach Award. The award honors outstanding bar public service and law-related education programs.

 

The State Bar of Texas’s I was the First. Vote for Me! project was unanimously selected in the category of state bars with more than 18,000 members and was commended for incorporating history, reading, math, and voting into one program.

I was the First. Vote for Me!, an initiative of 2013-2014 State Bar of Texas President Lisa Tatum of San Antonio, is an interactive program educating elementary students about important figures in U.S. and Texas history included in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards.

Through 30-second animations, nearly two dozen historic figures share their significance while their words are displayed “karaoke style” across the bottom of the screen. After viewing the animations, students can vote on their favorite animation and view the results in a graph.

In addition to the web-based materials, a book is available in hard copy and e-reader. Both the website and book are prepared in English and Spanish.

 

State Bar holds Texas Citizen Bee Finals in Austin

Austin recently played host to the Texas Citizen Bee Finals, a statewide civics education competition funded by the Hatton W. Sumners Foundation.

The event, organized by the State Bar of Texas, offers teachers and high school students an exciting way to study America’s heritage. Students use an online study guide program created by the Bill of Rights Institute that covers the U.S. Constitution and other important documents, people, issues, civic values, and skills. The study guide can be found here.

The winning student from each regional competition competes in the state competition, which was held April 26 at the Texas Law Center and Texas State Capitol. News anchor John McCaa of WFAA-TV in Dallas served as moderator. 

 

All contestants take a timed, multiple choice written examination, which counts as 65 percent of the final score. Students then compete in an oral round, making up 35 percent of the score, in which they answer one question from each of the categories.

The top four students are listed below.

1st Place
Thomas Cobb, Beaumont
Prize: $1,000 scholarship

2nd Place & Civic Conversation
Ayesha Rahman, Richardson
Prize: $1,250 scholarship

3rd Place
Angelo Ganno, McAllen
Prize: $500 Scholarship

4th Place
DaVonté Wilson, Tyler
Prize: $250 Scholarship

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