From the McHenry County Circuit Court:
22nd Judicial Circuit participates in Educational Outreach
The Twenty-Second Circuit has recently expanded a tradition of speaking at local schools to shed light on the role of the court system in our democracy and to spark the interest of students in the legal system generally.
Following in the footsteps of other judicial colleagues who have spent time in local classrooms, judges in McHenry County have been appearing virtually this past year in classrooms throughout the county.
These efforts meet the objectives of organizations like the Illinois State Bar Association, the Illinois Judges Association, and the McHenry County Bar Association, which encourage attorneys, judges and court officials to engage with the public and their local communities to help them gain a broader understanding of the U.S. judicial system.
Alia Bluemlein from Prairie Ridge High School in District 155 stated,
“Having Judges Hansen and Johnson in the classroom for two years now (both in person and virtually) has been a phenomenal experience for our students. Both bring a unique perspective from their respective positions and are thoughtful about connecting with students in an engaging manner– their presentations are relevant and interesting.
“I was especially impressed and appreciative how Judge Johnson recalled a book we had been reading in class last year and followed up this year by discussing her having read the book. Our community is lucky to have these two to partner with.”
Judges use a slide show, audience participation, and their own experiences to talk with the students, who are generally in middle or high school and enrolled in Civics, Government or Law in America classes.
The presentation touches on fundamental principles about the American system of government and the court system before focusing on the ways the judicial system impacts them directly, as students and as residents of McHenry County.
The presentations have taken advantage of recent cases to show how courts apply the Bill of Rights to contemporary issues, like student speech on social media and school-sanctioned searches of student belongings.
The judges interact with the students to help them consider how the court system may respond to these issues.
They aim to demonstrate that basic principles of civics education can be seen at the local level, especially when presented by local officials.
Being able to answer student’s questions is a highlight of the presentation.
Judge Justin Hansen has observed, “The students in these presentations are engaged and insightful.
“I hope that by spending a little bit of time on this topic, they better understand the judiciary, especially at the local level, and I hope they’re encouraged to be civically involved.”
In fact, Judge Hansen envisions future presentations that could include a member of the judiciary along with members of the local executive and legislative branches, providing students concrete examples of government in their community.
The judges’ presentation is a win-win for both the judicial system and the school district.
The Illinois Social Sciences Learning Standards include the following:
“explain the origin, functions, and structure of government with reference to the U.S. Constitution, Illinois Constitution and other systems of government.”
Judge Jennifer Johnson wants the students to realize how the law impacts their lives:
“We hope that by providing the students some real life examples of how the judiciary works, they will continue to think about the law and what justice means in their lives.”
“I had the pleasure of having Judge Johnson and Judge Cowlin virtually join my two AP US Government & Politics classes.
“They both gave such a fantastic presentation, answered many questions that myself and my students had, and made everything so relevant to high schoolers’ lives by discussing a current SCOTUS case involving social media posts by a high school athlete.
“My students probably had more questions than time allowed because the two judges discussed so many interesting topics. We all thoroughly enjoyed their presentation and the opportunity to learn about how our local court system functions!” Brian Murphy, an educator with Crystal Lake Central High School, said about the opportunity.
Prior to the presentation, the teachers and presenters coordinate to fit the presentation within the students’ curriculum.
The presentations have also benefited from the support of all judges in the 22nd Circuit, including Chief Judge James S. Cowlin.
Over the past year, volunteering judges from the 22nd Judicial Circuit include:
- James Cowlin,
- Justin Hansen
- Jennifer Johnson, and
- Robert Zalud
These judges follow the example of several colleagues who have been visiting classrooms in the community for many years.
Additionally, the Twenty-Second Judicial Circuit maintains a Speakers Bureau made up of judges, court administrators, and other local court officials.
It provides guest speakers at no cost to community groups to discuss the civics, the court system, and other legal topics.
The judges encourage other circuits to consider similar outreach in their communities and look forward to future speaking engagements.