Discovering Justice Reaches 3,500 Students During Massachusetts Civic Learning Week

Discovering Justice was honored to host four events as part of the Massachusetts Civic Learning Coalition’s (MCLC) Fourth Annual Civic Learning Week, March 11-15. Three of these events invited K-12 classrooms across the Commonwealth to “Zoom with a Judge” to explore the justice system, and the fourth event engaged Massachusetts students, teachers, legislators, and their staff at the Massachusetts State House to speak on the importance of civic education in schools.

More than 3,500 students and teachers from across the Commonwealth logged into the “Zoom with a Judge” virtual events. More than 80 classrooms attended the Kindergarten-Grade 2 event, which was hosted by United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit Chief Judge David Barron and Judge Gustavo Gelpí.

Meanwhile, 70 classrooms signed into the Grades 3-5 event hosted by Judge Lara Montecalvo and Judge Ojetta Thompson of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (below).

In the third “Zoom with a Judge” event, for Grades 6-12, students learned about their Fourth Amendment rights in schools from Chief Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court Donald Cabell and Associate Justice of the Massachusetts District Court, Brockton Michelle Fentress. Joining from classrooms across the state, students were able to think like judges themselves, explaining if they believed different scenarios were violations of students’ fourth amendment rights. 

Teachers in attendance praised the events as “engaging,” noting that students “were really excited to see the judges,” and they left the events excited to engage in nuanced conversation with their students.

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Middle School ‘Student Attorneys’ Wrestle with First Amendment Rights in Spring Mock Appeal Program

This spring, 29 middle school teams from 12 cities and towns across Massachusetts have joined Discovering Justice’s Mock Appeal Program. Through expanded district partnerships, that unprecedented number of teams includes four each from Brockton Public Schools and Springfield Public Schools.

Following five orientations this month for new and returning partners, these teams of ‘student attorneys’ began to delve into the complexities of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and what that looks like in today’s age of social media. Sessions are now in full swing, with volunteer Legal mentors and students connecting in weekly afternoon sessions across the Commonwealth.

Student attorneys from the Hernandez K-8 School in Roxbury and volunteer Legal Mentors from WilmerHale pose for a selfie during their second Mock Appeal session at the school.

Building off precedent, case law, and facts of their case from the Fall Mock Trial Program, students have split into petitioner and respondent student attorney teams. Additionally, teams have begun to meet with judges to prepare for their Final Events.

While touring Boston’s John Adams Courthouse, student attorneys from Brookline’s Florida Ruffin Ridley School meet with Justice William J. Meade and Justice Sookyoung Shin of the Massachusetts Appeals Court.
In a serendipitous moment, student attorneys cross paths with visiting Supreme Judicial Court Justices Serge George, Jr. and lawyer and Associate Justice Bessie Dewar.

Mock Appeal Final Events will take place between May 22nd and June 6th at courthouses across the Commonwealth. These events bring together the students’ semester of hard work as they present their cases to panels of judges in front of family and friends.

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Children Discovering Justice Students Learn to Take Action

Children Discovering Justice (CDJ) is a Massachusetts standards-based K-5 civics curriculum that has been revised and enhanced this year through feedback from Teacher Leaders and Professional Development cohort participants throughout the Commonwealth. Teachers can now access fully updated CDJ resources to elevate student discourse and build deeper social studies and civics connections in their classrooms. 

Erin Wallace, a 3rd grade teacher in Boston, shared, “The materials are very engaging and give students of all learning styles and abilities an access point!”

CDJ encourages discussion and collaboration among the Commonwealth's youngest learners.


This spring, CDJ classrooms are beginning to develop and implement civic action projects, from installing take-home food bins that reduce waste at school, to letters advocating for changes to the Massachusetts state flag. Using CDJ’s Justice Cycle and Justice Journal, students explore justice issues, enact research, make plans, and take action as a class – learning that they have a voice they can use to advocate for change in their communities.

CDJ inspires students to take action to explore and improve their communities.

Want to Stay Connected to CDJ? Sign up for the CDJ newsletter, or email questions to Curriculum Developer Victoria Suri:

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State House Briefing for Legislators Platforms Massachusetts Students and Teachers

At a March 13th briefing organized by Discovering Justice, an audience of 60 Massachusetts legislators and their staff gathered in the Massachusetts State House to hear students and teachers speak on the importance of the state’s continued investment in civic education.

Discovering Justice Executive Director Matt Wilson opens the standing-room-only State House event.

Traveling to the State House from Cambridge, Fitchburg, North Andover, and North Attleboro, students aged from fourth to twelfth grades and their teachers presented their stories of the transformative power of civic education.

After learning about civics at school, North Attleboro High School senior Meagan Lee reports that “I am inspired to speak up about the needs of the community and believe I have the power to have an impact.”

Event speakers included, from left to right: Cambridge fourth grader Galina B., Representative Andy Vargas (D-Haverhill), and North Attleboro graduating senior Meagan Lee.

Hard work remains to keep the Legislature engaged in supporting and investing in civic education in MA classrooms. Speakers urged the Legislature to level-fund and maintain the Civics Project Trust Fund. The Trust Fund is used by state education officials to develop civic education curricula and professional development for teachers and is also granted out to school districts to develop local civic education capacity.

However, those dedicated to the cause are unwavering in their convictions – like Representative Andy Vargas (D-Haverhill), the first guest to speak at the event, reminding the room that “Civics education empowers students across the Commonwealth to realize they have agency to make change.”

And, as Cambridge fourth grader Galina B. attested, “Civics has empowered me to see that I can change the world, one project at a time.”

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Kayla Nordman

Kayla Nordman believes strongly in expanding access to comprehensive civic education to provide the next generation with the resources they need to uphold and expand upon the values of American democracy and create a more equitable future. Before joining Discovering Justice, she worked as a Legislative Intern at the Massachusetts State House and as a Program Manager for the Massachusetts Center for Civic Education. Kayla graduated from Suffolk University with a BA in International Relations.