San Marcos,
12:25 PM

Cal State San Marcos Working with Fourth Graders Impacted by Homelessness to Change Civic Education

California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) is working with a group of homeless fourth-graders to change how civics is taught in the classroom – and their first test comes during an Oct. 8 mock trial at San Diego Superior Court.

This isn’t just any mock trial. It stems from an effort led by Fran Chadwick, Ed.D., associate professor in CSUSM’s School of Education and advisor to the California Task Force on K-12 Civic Learning. Chadwick has been working with a class of fourth graders at San Diego’s Monarch School for homeless children, the only such school of its kind in the United States.

Chadwick’s `Literacy and the Law’ project incorporates literature, theatre, composition, and critical thinking skills into lessons about the judicial branch of government, culminating in a mock trial in which a character from a book, play or current event has his or her day in court.

The trial gets underway Oct. 8 at 10 a.m. in the San Diego Superior Court when “David,” the character from the popular children’s series of `No, David!’ books by David Shannon, is accused of stealing a supply of stickers from his teacher’s desk drawer. Playing the role of judge, jury, prosecutor, defense attorney, witnesses and David will be Monarch School fourth graders. Once the trial is over, students will write and illustrate their own book, David Says “Yes” To the Rule of Law!

“We are teaching students about the rule of law, about being innocent unless proven guilty, issues of impartiality, and about making decisions based on the available facts and not based on someone’s opinion of a particular character,” Chadwick said. “The learning unit is based on Common Core State Standards on persuasive writing, and include content standards in theatre, English language arts and history social science.”

Why target fourth graders at the Monarch School for the test run?

“We need to reach all youth—and youth from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to have any experiences with civics at all,” said Chadwick.

Chadwick has been working with former San Diego County Teacher of the Year Stephen Keiley. Many of Keiley’s students reside in shelters, motels or cars, or find shelter by `couch surfing.’ When Chadwick is done, lesson plans and resource material will be posted on an educators’ website that she is developing.

Much is at stake as we face a civics crisis in this nation. Chadwick’s project-based learning units are created in an effort to provide quality civics resources for teachers, one of the recommendations of the California Task Force on K-12 Civic Learning, which has recently published, Revitalizing K-12 Civic Learning in California: a Blueprint for Action. The task force was supported by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. It was co-chaired by Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools David Gordon and Administrative Presiding Justice Judith McConnell from the Fourth Appellate District. The task force included prominent members across the state, including those who believe that the answer to the civic crisis and the success of our nation and state depend on educated, informed and active citizens.

Other lesson plans in the testing stage elsewhere in the state include a court case, Gurdev Kaur Cheema vs. Harold Thompson, which dealt with the Constitutional right of freedom of religion for the Cheema children, who were kept from attending school while wearing a `kirpan,’ one of the items of faith they must wear as part of their Sikh religion. A third lesson plan involves the historical fiction `Journey to Topaz’ by Yoshido Uchida, which follows a family through its experience as Japanese-Americans sent to an internment camp during World War II and its subsequent return home after the war.

WHO: Monarch School fourth graders; CSUSM; San Diego Superior Court.

WHAT: A mock trial with homeless fourth graders to test out new multidisciplinary lesson plans that meet Common Core standards.

WHEN: 10 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 8

WHERE: San Diego Superior Court, Department 20, 330 W. Broadway, San Diego.