Landya McCafferty, Chief Judge of the Federal District Court in New Hampshire, has been visiting high school history and social studies classes via video. Judge McCafferty is quite adept with video conferencing as her court is conducting most of its hearings entirely via video during the pandemic. Judge McCafferty talks to the students about being a federal judge and the path to the bench as well as answers any questions they may have about being a judge. The academic program she brings to the students is one she calls: “You Be the Judge.”
New Hampshire Superior Court Judge N. William Delker, also a strong proponent of civics education, has agreed to assist Judge McCafferty by enlisting state court judges to make similar virtual classroom visits. The goal is to bring civics into the homes of rural and urban students.
During the session, Judge McCafferty gives students a fictional scenario derived from the facts of a real case and guides them through the sentencing process. Students consider the goals of sentencing, including public safety as well as weighing the factors which are considered in determining a sentence. The activity is designed to help students think critically and talk easily with the judge, rather than sit through a presentation. The students are divided into smaller groups of prosecutors and defense attorneys to consider aggravating and mitigating facts and then advocate for a particular sentence.
Teachers working with Judge McCafferty have created a variety of tools to make this virtual lesson even more meaningful, including pre- and post-tests, polls, and small-group discussions (in a Zoom breakout room, for example) that the judge and teacher can observe. When students come back together to wrap up the program, they present the rationale for their recommendations and decide the sentence as judges.
The New Hampshire Institute for Civics Education is now matching judges with schools and classes.
The virtual visit can be scheduled at a mutually convenient time and usually lasts between 60-90 minutes.
For information and registration, contact Martha Madsen, the Executive Director of the NH Institute for Civics Education at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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