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Justice teaching volunteers now number about 3,200.

When Florida Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis took the gavel at the Supreme Court last summer, he outlined an idea that he said would be the cornerstone of his administration. He called it "Justice Teaching."

Working with The Florida Bar, the state's courts would create a permanent structure for a comprehensive civics education initiative, the chief justice pledged. The goal of Justice Teaching is to have a judge or attorney serving as a civics resource for every school in the state.

In the 10 months since Chief Justice Lewis first described Justice Teaching, the foundation of the program has been laid:

* More than 3,200 judges and attorneys have registered as volunteers.

* More than 2,000 of those volunteers have attended one of the nearly two dozen training sessions the chief justice has presented all across the state.

* And almost half of the state's public schools--more than 1,400--have contacted Justice Teaching to provide contact information for their volunteer.

The program is managed by a select committee that includes a judge from each of the district courts of appeal and each of the circuits. Leaders of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, the Florida Law Related Education Association, and The Florida Bar are also on the committee.

"We can't accomplish anything without one another," Chief Justice Lewis told the judges and attorneys gathered at one training session.

The vision for Justice Teaching, though, has a single source: Chief Justice Lewis, a man who speaks from experience when he talks about engaging Florida's young people about the role of the courts and the rule of law and the core constitutional values that support our government and society.

Chief Justice Lewis has visited schools regularly since he came to the Supreme Court in 1998. He has continued those trips as chief justice, but he has also visited circuits around the state to train Justice Teaching volunteers.

Studies show that students want to learn about civics from lawyers and judges.

"They want to know about this constitutional structure,'' Chief Justice Lewis said. "They want to know what it is about this great democracy that keeps it working."

When the chief justice begins a training session, he talks about the vital importance of helping the next generation understand the value of core concepts like the separation of powers, the interaction of the rights guaranteed in the Constitution, and the need for an impartial judiciary. But he's quick to add that going into a classroom and engaging students in a discussion about those ideas can also be downright fun.

And he reassures volunteers that they will be provided with a wealth of effective material designed for the appropriate grade level and that they will be asked to spend, on average, about an hour a month as a resource for their schools.

Class presentations and other materials are included on the Justice Teaching Web page, at The exercises and presentations have been designed to develop critical thinking skills among students as well as demonstrate the effective interaction of courts within our constitutional structure of government.

Judges and attorneys can also fill out volunteer applications forms at www.justiceteaching. org and review background materials that detail the pressing need for civic education.

"We're trying to make this as easy as possible," Chief Justice Lewis said.
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Publication:Florida Bar News
Date:Apr 15, 2007
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