Judges, Lawyers Bring Life Skills to Virtual Classroom Activities for Home and School

High school teachers can bring real-life civics into their virtual lessons when they invite federal judges and volunteer attorneys to facilitate a civil discourse and decision-making simulation with students at home or in the classroom this fall.

Simulations that feature legal skills as life skills in advocacy and jury deliberations are among the offerings on a menu of distance-learning activities. Judges and volunteer attorneys conduct live programs on a range of topics, including the everyday impact on teens and adults of the rule of law, separation of powers, and judicial independence. Other successful distance-learning pilots tested this spring were a career showcase in St. Louis, and a sentencing activity, You Be the Judge, in the District of New Hampshire.

U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom
U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom, of Miami, launches the fourth year of Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions by piloting a 90-minute distance-learning version of this popular national initiative for high school and college students.

In the flagship program, Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions, realistic scenarios bring forward issues related to the coronavirus, including social media memes used to start ambiguous rumors, and a car parade of 16-year-olds protesting for the right to vote. The program, which is facilitated by judges and members of local Federal Bar Association (FBA) chapters, has reached students in federal courtrooms across the country.  As it enters its fourth year, the live program with judges and lawyers is available online to high school and college teachers who want to offer it to their students.

“The need for civil discourse skills doesn’t diminish when day-to-day life is disrupted,” said U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom, of Miami, who launched the fall series with a virtual program from her closed courtroom on July 31. “In fact, now more than ever, students need exposure to the ways that civil discourse is the foundation for effectively resolving disputes in the legal system and in their lives.”

Bloom and U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg, of West Palm Beach, with the assistance of FBA chapters in the Southern District of Florida, pioneered the courtroom program in 2017.  For the coming academic year, they have modified it as a 90-minute distance-learning module. South Florida teachers can go online to request a judge and attorney team for a class in the 2020-2021 term.

Interested teachers in other parts of the country should make requests at aogrp_outreach@ao.uscourts.gov(link sends e-mail).

“Over the past three years, working with federal judges on this initiative has been a rewarding experience in our chapter and in our school communities,” said Stephanie Turk, the South Florida Chapter’s civics liaison and an associate at Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson. In the July distance-learning pilot, coordinated by Bloom and South Florida Chapter President Alaina Fotiu-Wojtowicz, a partner at Brodsky Fotiu-Wojtowicz, students learned and practiced several life-impacting skills.

“The program also gives students a reality check when it comes to situations that they can find themselves in that can have legal and long-term consequences,” said Rosenberg. “Students analyze 10 realistic, seemingly harmless scenarios that they may not realize could have a negative impact on their futures.

“When we talk them through the scenarios, students understand that good people – whether they are teens or adults – can make bad decisions that can change the course of their lives.”

Distance Learning image, zoom meeting
Federal Bar Association lawyers in the Southern District of Florida join U.S. District Judges Beth Bloom, of Miami, and Robin Rosenberg, of West Palm Beach, as faculty in Civil Discourse and Difficult Decisions online.

Participating attorney volunteers from area FBA chapters brought additional perspectives to the online experience.

“Personal interaction with judges and lawyers is an important part of the program, so we built the agenda in ways to connect with the students, even in a virtual setting,” said volunteer attorney Andrew Loewenstein, a partner at Holland & Knight.

“If we can help students communicate and negotiate respectfully and effectively when they are in contentious situations, we’ve made a positive difference in their lives and, we hope, in their communities going forward,” said volunteer attorney Darren Spielman, a partner at The Concept Law Group, P.A.

Related Topics: Public Education

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