Top: Jane Anders dresses as Max from "Where the Wild Things Are" and teaches children about the three branches of government at the Children's Reading Hour at a previous MSBA Annual Meeting. Children of all ages are welcome (left).
Jane Anders has a special way of educating children aboutthe components that form our legal system. But her style is tried and true.
“I have a passion for the law and a passion for literature,” says Anders. “And I thought I could do law-related education programs through lit.”
Anders, an elementary educator in Anne Arundel County, has married these two passions for 30 years as a volunteer for Citizenship Law-Related Education Program (CLREP), MSBA’s educational arm aimed at helping students understand America’s sprawling legal system. CLREP is known for its mega-productions, like the Mock Trial competition and Teen Court. But at each MSBA Annual Meeting since the early 1980s, CLREP has hosted “Children’s Hour”, a small, Friday morning program that’s focused on the children in attendance and pairs a children’s story with activities and education. The program allows Anders to truly unleash her unique teaching style, which she has done since its outset.
It formed, Anders recalls, because the Bar was interested in providing an activity for children of Bar members at the Annual Meeting and the first production was eclectic. There were several headliners, including Anders dressed as a children’s book character and CLREP Executive Director Ellery “Rick” Miller and his wife as clowns. Over the years “Children’s Hour” has settled, though it still features Anders in costume.
“It’s a joy [to do characters],” she says. “The world of literature heightens the experience for these kids. It makes the situation come alive. It brings the book to life. Then we can use our imagination to solve the problem or issue of the book.”
Anders and the children read a story aloud and then the children participate in games or activities that lead them to understand the book’s message, a message that has a strong tie to some facet of America’s legal system.
For example, Anders has previously used Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are to illustrate the government’s separation of power. The book, says Anders, discusses who has the power: Max, the main character, thinks he has power in the beginning but his mother has real power; later Max has power over the Wild Things in his imaginary land, but his mother has the power because Max is actually in his room, where she sent him. After the story, the children learn about the powers of the three branches of American government and then participate in activities about what duties fall under which branch’s power.
Folktales are also used for “Children’s Hour”. Anders says these stories easily translate to law-related concepts and they appeal to both children and adults. Specifically, Anders enjoys the tales of Anansi the Spider from Africa. In Anansi’s stories, he gets involved in different schemes and situations, and his traits and intentions are both good and bad. They lend themselves to mock trial experiences, with the spider as the defendant, says Anders.
“Jane is the kind of teacher who you remember for the rest of your life, thinking back on the lessons learned and the fond memories of the joy of learning,” says CLREP Executive Director Miller. “She is the consummate professional educator, who through her portrayal of book characters has brought law and literature alive for thousands of Maryland school students.”
Anders also works with CLREP in other roles. She develops elementary curriculum and is the teacher consultant to the Advisory Board, which she has served since its formation. Though her work with kids at the Annual Meeting is perhaps the most memorable.
“Over the years Children’s Hour has probably had hundreds of children in attendance,” says Wanda A. Calvin Claiborne, MSBA’s Director of Meetings & Bar Liasion. “Many are now grown and coming back down to visit with their children.”
“[CLREP] is the one thing besides my church, my family and my teaching that I’ve stayed with over these years,” says Anders. “I don’t know another project that’s been working with this kind of longevity – since 1975 – for students.”