By Isiah REYES
Alicia Harris of Crescenta Valley High School was one of 21 teachers from across the nation selected to participate in the ninth annual Summer Institute for Teachers in Washington D.C.
The summer institute is co-sponsored by the American Bar Association and the Federal Judicial Center. It is designed to enhance the knowledge and understanding of teachers of U.S. history, government, civics and law. Harris, who teaches 11th grade U.S. history and 12th grade A.P. government, said she first heard about the institute from another colleague from out of state and so she applied to the program.
“I was thrilled to be chosen,” Harris said. “I heard great things about this program. I know three different teachers who have done it and it’s really phenomenal.”
The institute took place from June 22 to June 27. All participants worked closely with leading historians, federal judges, and curriculum consultants who focused on three landmark federal trials. The three cases studied included the Sedition Act Trials of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Prohibition-era warrantless wiretapping case of Olmstead v. United States and the Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers Case.
“What we did was we heard from professors as well as federal judges who are experts on these cases and then we collaborated with teachers on writing additional lesson plans that you could use on these particular cases or on other cases,” Harris said. “It was an exploration on those cases but also learning on how to utilize court cases in your classroom.”
Harris added, “I already teach these three cases but I definitely got more detailed information than I’ve ever known about them, and by working with these other teachers I got different creative ways to incorporate cases.”
Throughout the week, the teachers went on field trips and spent a day at the U.S. Supreme Court. They were able to see the nine Supreme Court Justices hand down three rulings. The teachers also attended a federal court trial where they participated in a question-and-answer session with a U.S. District Court judge.
“We had a special session with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and that’s a once in a lifetime kind of thing,” Harris said. “So it was really awesome.”
Mabel C. McKinney-Browning, director of the American Bar Association Division for Public Education, said, “Teachers leave the institute with an informed view of the judiciary, an enriched view of its rich and vibrant history and a renewed sense of the importance of the courts as a co-equal branch of our government.”
Any teacher who is interested can apply online. The program is mainly directed toward professors who teach U.S. history, government, civics, and law.
“This institute provides teachers with an extraordinary opportunity to gain insight and access to the federal judiciary through these important historical cases,” said Bruce Ragsdale, director of the Federal Judicial History Office at the Federal Judicial Center.
The other teachers who participated in this year’s institute came from all parts of the United States, from Massachusetts to Minnesota, to Alabama and Alaska. Overall, Harris said she had been to D.C. before but she was glad to go back.
The Federal Judicial Center is the education and research agency for the federal courts. Congress created the Federal Judicial Center in 1967 to promote improvements in judicial administration in the courts of the United States. The American Bar Association is one of the largest voluntary professional membership organizations in the world with nearly 400,000 members.