- Judge Brown
The MSBA, in conjunction with the Maryland Judiciary, local bar associations, and the Citizenship Law-Related Education Program (CLREP), kicks off the Maryland Civics & Law Academy’s third year of promoting good citizenry among Maryland high school students with a November 8 engagement at Howard County’s Wilde Lake High School in Columbia.
Administered by CLREP and staffed with a faculty comprised of the volunteer attorneys and judges, the Academy – modeled on the “signature program” of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Civic Education in the Nation’s Schools – provides at least four hours of focused education on such topics as Rights and Responsibilities; Law and Justice; Free Speech, School Speech, and Protected Speech; Power and Empowerment; and Law in a Cyber-Age.
“The Academy talks with students about not only their rights as citizens, but also their responsibilities as such,” says MSBA President Michael J. Baxter. He points to MSBA’s history of promoting civics education, specifically citing a popular 2006 joint Bench/Bar program, led by then-MSBA President Edward J. Gilliss and entitled “Separation of Powers”, that instructed students on the three branches of our government and stressed the importance of an independent judiciary.
If you are a lawyer or judge interested in volunteering your time for the Academy, or for more information, contact the Honorable Pamila J. Brown at (410) 480-7715 .
In 2011, when the state of Maryland eliminated the government exam portion of its High School Assessments (HSA), which are required for graduation, the Honorable Pamila J. Brown, District Court for Howard County, led a Bench/Bar response intended to fill that void in civics education. That fall, the Maryland Civics & Law Academy made its debut at Chesapeake High School in Essex, Maryland.
“An understanding of law and legal issues is essential to understanding politics, culture, society, and the fundamentals of democracy,” explains Brown. “The program, presented in a creative and interactive format, is designed to empower students to understand the Constitution and the rule of law and be engaged in the working of our society through basic civic education.”
Though the state of Maryland reinstated the government exam portion of the HSA in the 2012-2013 school year, the Maryland Civics & Law Academy has sallied forth, presenting at least three times each school year at a host of locations around the state.
The Academy offers students an opportunity to learn about the law through direct connection with judges and attorneys that they might not otherwise have, according to CLREP Executive Director Ellery M. “Rick” Miller, Jr. Small concurrent sessions of 15-18 students, he says, “provide a real opportunity for the students to interact and discuss legal issues with the presenters.”
- President Baxter
Miller calls the schools’ response to the program “tremendous,” noting that since its inception the program has educated more than 400 students. “The schools have assisted in recruiting students, made space available, provided substitutes for the participating teachers when needed, and provided and paid for bus transportation at programs involving students from several schools,” he says.
Subsequent Academies are scheduled for Allegany County (Allegany High School, November 15) and Baltimore City (Patterson High School, December 19), as well as yet-to-be-determined dates in Baltimore City and Montgomery County in February 2014 and April 2014, respectively. Miller notes that several local bar associations, including Frederick, Howard, and Baltimore Counties, are also planning civics and law academies in their respective jurisdictions, with “technical assistance” from MSBA, the Maryland Judiciary, and CLREP. “It is our hope,” he adds, “that we will eventually reach all 24 school systems in the state.”
“In this era of political deadlock, it’s important to remind our next generation of leaders of how our government should work,” says Baxter.