Massachusetts Legislature Votes 33% Increase in Civic Education Funds

On Monday, the Massachusetts Legislature voted to increase funding to the Civic Project Trust Fund to $2M, increasing the amount of resources flowing into state and local education word choice?to develop and run civic education programs.

As Advocacy Chair for the Massachusetts Civic Learning Coalition (MCLC), Discovering Justice Executive Director Matt Wilson, helped coordinate a campaign this spring to increase the Commonwealth’s investment in civic education.

Wilson and Advocacy Fellow Ana Ali worked with the 50+ member MCLC coalition through the Legislature’s budget process to increase the money that needs rephrasing. Senators Harriette Chandler, Becca Rausch, and Representative Linda Dean Campbell led the successful campaign from inside the State House.

“Local school systems need resources to update their curriculum and prepare their teachers to teach students the skill they need to engage in civic activity. Thanks to the legislature for giving civic education a big boost for the coming year,” said Wilson,

In 2018, the Massachusetts Legislature passed, and Governor Baker signed, the 2018 Civic Education Bill that re-established civic education as a core subject for Massachusetts students and required them to do civic projects in 8th Grade and high school.

Massachusetts has long been ranked as having one of the top civic education programs in the nation, yet most school systems in the Commonwealth do not have comprehensive K-12 civic education programs. Many students do not have access to programs to learn the workings of our democracy and to develop the skills necessary to effectively engage in civic action. Gateway Cities, which have high BIPOC populations and have under-resourced school systems, are particularly in need of support and resources. In particular:

Few schools have comprehensive 8th grade civic project programs. Even fewer high schools have set up programs to meet the civic education project requirements of the legislation.
Most teachers do not have access to Professional Development for their civic education teaching.
School systems often lack access to quality civic education curriculum, especially in Grades K-5.
The Civic Project Trust Fund does not provide adequate resources for school systems to develop and implement their civic education curriculum. Over the past two years, only 32% of the grant proposals to the Fund were funded.

  • This $500,000 increase in the budget will be used to :
    Provide more local grants to help school systems set up and implement civic education curriculum and programs.
    Fund the creation of Professional Development Hubs, regional centers for K-12 community based professional development to help teachers effectively teach civic education.
    Work with DESE and others to create innovative curriculum resources for school systems for grades K-12.
    Work with our partners to support the Commonwealth Civics Challenge to showcase students civics projects which highlight student civic engagement.


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Civic Education for Elementary School Students

This year, dozens of teachers in Cambridge, Boston, and Springfield piloted Children Discovering Justice (CDJ) 2.0, the organization’s new K-2 standards-based civics curriculum,
Working with the Commonwealth’s youngest students, teachers engaged students in rich conversations about justice and fairness with CDJ’s culturally responsive curriculum and activities.
Fabiane Noronha, a veteran kindergarten teacher at the King Open School in Cambridge said, ‘“My biggest takeaway from Children Discovering Justice is that this curriculum is actually a framework for empowerment; an opportunity for educators and scholars to engage in a transformative human experience.”
Starting the Fall of 2022, Discovering Justice will make this curriculum available to all districts in Massachusetts, leading the way in making high quality civic education accessible to our youngest students. The curriculum is open source and available for free through Discovering Justice. . Every lesson plan is easy to implement with accompanying slides as well as printable, online, and seesaw versions of lesson activities.
Check out sample lessons: Kindergarten Module 1, Lesson 3: Injustice and Second Grade Module 3, Lesson 2. In the lessons you can click into accompanying slides, activities, extra practice, and ongoing tools including our 4 Steps: Justice Advocates Cycle (pictured below).

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Mock Appeal Program Visits Nine Courthouses Across the Commonwealth

Over the first two weeks of June, twenty-four mock appeal teams of Massachusetts middle school students presented their First Amendment cases in front of a panel of judges and attorneys as well as friends and family.

Grappling with the complexities of a case addressing a controversial speaker brought to a high school campus, student attorneys delivered oral arguments and fielded panelists’ questions – a difficult task for even the most experienced lawyer. In many cases, the panels were divided on whether to side with the petitioner or the respondent, a telling sign that both sides were balanced in their presentations and theory of the case.

“The time that the legal mentors and judges spend with the middle schoolers over the semester is invaluable. I never tire of seeing first time student attorneys make their case in front of the bench,” said Mock Appeal Program Manager Luke Matys. “Thanks to the courthouses and staff who partnered with Discovering Justice to open their doors to the volunteers, students, educators, and families.”

Working with courthouse staff, Discovering Justice hosted ten mock with more than 600 attendees at appeals at nine courthouses across the Commonwealth. Thanks to the Moakley Courthouse, the Lowell Justice Center, the Donohue Federal Building and US Courthouse in Worcester, the Taunton Juvenile Court, the Framingham District Court, the Springfield Federal Courthouse, the Brockton District Court, the New Bedford Superior Court, and the Brookline District Court for supporting these events.

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Visit Our New Office Space!

On February 16th, Discovering Justice Staff celebrated the opening of its new remodeled office space on the first floor of the Moakley Courthouse. After 23 years, working out of Judges Chambers on the third floor, we are excited to move into our spacious new digs which will be much more accessible to the public.

We invite Discovering Justice supporters to stop by the Moakley to see the new space and meet the staff.

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Field Trips Return to the Moakley Courthouse!

After a hiatus due to COVID-19, Discovering Justice is reopening its Field Trips to high school teachers and students this spring.

Field trips with Discovering Justice invite students to explore the workings of the courthouse as well as the themes and ideals of justice and democracy. While on a guided tour featuring interactive courtroom activities, students are encouraged to view, analyze, and discuss key features of the courthouse and the operations of the justice system.

High School Field Trips can include a tour of the Moakley Federal Courthouse, a Q&A session with a Federal Judge, and/or an opportunity to observe a live trial and judicial proceedings.

Through the program, students increase their understanding of the functions, roles, and structures in the American justice system, expanding their justice-related vocabulary and participating in activities both in the courtroom and the classroom. Field trips help students to cultivate their identities as active members of our democracy and to see the justice system not as a stagnant institution, but something they can utilize and engage with through civic action.

If you are a High School teacher who is interested in bringing your class for a Field Trip at the Moakley, contact Program Manager Henry Schunk at

Middle & Elementary School Field Trips will be available later this spring. If you are interested in Middle & Elementary School Field Trips to the Moakley Courthouse, contact Henry Schunk at

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The 2021 Discovering Justice Annual Report

For more than two decades, Discovering Justice has helped students make sense of the nation’s justice system and explore the question: “What is justice, and how do I use my voice to advocate for it?” You will see in Discovering Justice’s 2021 Annual Report, that with the support of hundreds of legal mentors and dedicated educators, our students continue to grapple with this simple, yet complex, question.

Starting as early as Kindergarten, our programs help students examine “Little J” justice issues: how to look at micro-level fairness, and how to practice justice with friends and family at school, at home, and on the playground. The programs then pivot to help students explore the “Big J” justice issues embedded in the framework of our nation’s justice system and how these institutions impact our communities.

Take a look at the Annual Report to see how our programs help students identify injustice and inequalities in their daily lives and connect them to macro-level democratic systems. This approach encourages students to embrace their roles and responsibilities, bring justice and fairness to their communities, and engage in civic activity and potential careers.

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