250 Students, a Judge and a Newseum Outing

This guest blog post is by Rachel Millstein, a reading module teacher at Patapsco Middle School in Ellicott City, Md. 

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Students ask questions of Third Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Marjorie Rendell on May 13. (Photo by Rachel Millstein)

Trekking to D.C. from Howard County with 250 middle school students in tow may sound like a daunting task for the Newseum venue as well as the teachers and chaperones. But with the coordination and experience of the staff at the Newseum, it was all as easy as a piece of cake!

During this academic school year, we have had the pleasure of planning and executing trips for each of our grade levels to experience and explore the Newseum and we couldn’t be happier with the outcome. All students at Patapsco Middle School were able to take part in a schoolwide initiative to expose our students to career paths they might not be aware of as well as maintaining focus on the Maryland college- and career-ready standards.

A special pilot program was offered to some of our seventh-grade students at the Newseum entitled, Judge Chat, in which a judge from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, the Honorable Marjorie Rendell, came to discuss how the First Amendment impacts her career and to share her experiences within the judicial system.

Our students were highly engaged throughout the discussion and raised some very interesting questions surrounding her judgments on specific cases they had learned about prior to the discussion during our lesson with the Newseum education staff in You Can’t Say That In School?!  Judge Rendell was very candid in her discussion on the cases that have impacted her the most and how she deliberates with other judges to come to a fair decision.

Each grade participated in a lesson developed by the Newseum education staff. They led the middle school students through an hour-long interactive and engaging lesson surrounding the First Amendment and case studies, such as Tinker v. Des Moines, the MySpace case of Blue Mountain School District v. J.S., a Confederate flag banning in Melton v. Young, and more that push the boundaries of how the First Amendment is interpreted within our judicial system.  

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Judge Rendell, left, and Federal Courts’ National Outreach Manager Rebecca Fanning talk with Patapsco students. (Photo by Rachel Millstein)

We had an amazing experience with one educator in particular who really assisted our students in their ability to access the complex information within the presentation. Jackie Jecha was professional and was able to relate to all of our students.  She consistently brought enthusiasm and excitement to our lessons, even when we had three consecutive sessions on the same material.  Our students were able to make connections and ask difficult questions about the cases that really put her to the test!

Prior to our on-site experience, we utilized the Newseum online resources for educators, which allowed us to thoroughly prepare our students. The resources’ attention to detail makes them highly accessible and explicit in their directions.

The overall experience that we had with the Newseum makes us confident in our goal to continually engage and grow our relationship going forward. Through continued field trips, as well as professional development opportunities, the verdict is clear: The Newseum is actively partnering with educational institutions to teach the next generation not only about the news and news reporting, but about the importance of critical thinking as they interpret the world around them.

Here are some comments on the day:

“I loved the recording area where it looks like you are on the television talking about the news.” – Alexa

“My favorite part was the 9/11 Memorial and the video that was being played because it really hit home knowing that this horrible tragedy happened only 14 years ago.” – Nick

“My favorite part was the HP New Media Gallery because you could actually do activities like taking pictures and seeing them up on the wall.” – Natalie

“I liked the Berlin Wall, as it was such a fixture in history.” – Jacob

“My favorite part about the trip to the Newseum was when the judge talked about some of the cases she had and we got to ask questions.” – Joe

“Hearing from Judge Rendell was incredibly powerful for my students as they recognize that a judge’s decisions can affect the laws of the United States of America.” – teacher

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