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In Idaho, Federal and State Judges Reach Out to Teachers

The Idaho Teachers’ Institute on Law-Related Civic Education is a collaborative effort of the United States District and Bankruptcy Courts of Idaho, the Idaho Supreme Court, and the University of Idaho College of Law. Now in its third year, the institute targets Idaho secondary school teachers. Participants are primarily high school teachers joined by a few middle school teachers of government, history and social studies.

Usually scheduled in June, soon after the school year ends, the two-day program is held in the Idaho Law and Justice Learning Center, a beautifully restored and repurposed county courthouse that serves as the law school’s Boise campus.

The 2016 institute was attended by 26 teachers, including five master teachers, a pre-service teacher and a school district administrator. Similar attendance was expected for the 2017 program, which was held just last month.

Striving for geographic diversity, more than a third of the 2016 participants hailed from areas beyond Boise and the Treasure Valley area of southern Idaho. The institute reimburses teachers for travel and lodging expenses, which makes it easier to attract educators from distant locations.

I helped organize last year’s event and was pleased to be part of the 16-member faculty that delivered the principal presentations, either individually or as a panel. Fellow faculty members included federal and state court judges, lawyers, academics, administrators and journalists.

Idaho federal judges or practitioners included Senior Judge Stephen S. Trott of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, who has chambers in Boise; Chief Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush; Dick Rubin, the executive director of the Federal Defender Services of Idaho; and attorney Wendy Olson.

Panelists for the Idaho teachers’ institute included, from left, Linda Copple Trout, former chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court; Sara Thomas, state courts administrator; and Magistrate Judge Candy W. Dale.

Other organizers and faculty members included the Honorable Linda Copple Trout, the former chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court; Donald Burnett, the former dean of the College of Law who also served as interim president of the university; and Russ Heller, a retired Boise School District educator who is the executive director of the Idaho Council for History Education and Idaho Council for the Social Studies. Filling out the roster were attorney Nicole Hancock, a Ninth Circuit lawyer representative, and Terri Muse, the law school’s assistant dean for external relations.

The institute program departs widely from a traditional “talk at” program. It combines presentations by experts on selected topics with a set of workshop discussions led by master teachers who possess abundant classroom experience. The 2016 curriculum focused on six topics, including: “Public (Mis)Understanding of the Judiciary and the Rule of Law,” and “The Jury’s Role in the Administration of Justice.”

A dinner following the first day of the institute featured a lively presentation by Judge Trott entitled “A Republic: What Will It Take to Keep It?”

During and immediately following the principal presentations on each of the topics, teachers were afforded the opportunity to ask questions of the presenters. Teachers then formed breakout groups to discuss the presentation they had just heard and to exchange views on how best to translate the content of each topic into their own teaching or that of their colleagues. A master teacher was present to moderate each discussion.

Presenters were encouraged to “make the rounds” at the break-out groups and to use the break-out sessions as opportunities to start developing new or revised teaching materials and lesson plans.

Teachers also participated actively in the final topic: “Summing up: Best Practices in Teaching Civic Education with a Focus on the Rule of Law and the Role of an Independent, Impartial Judiciary.” This plenary session allowed for the further exchange of ideas on how the teachers could broaden and improve civic education in their home school districts, with a particular emphasis on the rule of law and role of the courts.

Feedback from teachers was uniformly positive. My favorite comment was, “Thank you for this wonderful experience. I am not only a more enlightened educator, but a more enlightened citizen!”

The board of judges of the U.S. District and Bankruptcy Courts of Idaho is committed to continuing its participation in the institute, which is funded in large part by a grant from the courts’ non-appropriated fund.

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