To help educate students about the Supreme Court justice system, 20 to 25 Florida teachers are chosen each year to participate in the annual Justice Teaching Institute (JTI), a hands-on training for secondary teachers instructing civics. This year, social studies teacher Carol LaVallee was chosen to head to the Supreme Court of Florida in Tallahassee for the JTI, held Feb. 7 to 11.
[pullquote]”I really wanted to look deeper into the entire justice system so I can better explain to my students what it’s all about.”[/pullquote]
LaVallee was originally interested in participating in the JTI after hearing from previous participants that it was a great experience that benefitted both teachers and their students. “Being a middle-school teacher, you touch on every aspect of the court system and government,” she said. “I really wanted to look deeper into the entire justice system so I can better explain to my students what it’s all about. It really interested me and I was so excited to go.”
Before the teachers’ arrival, they were each mailed a packet that detailed an actual court case that was going to be held while they were in Tallahassee. According to LaVallee, the teachers were to act out the court case before it occurred in a mock trial, which was held in the Supreme Courtroom. The teachers were all assigned a specific role, and LaVallee played a justice.
According to LaVallee, throughout the week at the institute, the teachers all planned for the mock trial and dug deeper into the court case. The teachers studied how to speak before the court, how to conduct an argument and how to research the topic. “[The trial] was about hot pursuit. A man witnessed smoking a marijuana cigarette was chased home where the police entered his private property without permission,” LaVallee said. The mock court case went to appeal after two different appellate courts in Florida could not agree on the issue.
On the last day, the actual trial for the case was held, and teachers were able to compare their mock trial to the real one. “You always got excited when the lawyer asks the same question you did or puzzled when you forgot to mention something that the justice does,” LaVallee said. “It was really cool to relate to the real thing.” The final outcome of the trial is currently private and will not be known until its information is made public.
During the JTI, teachers met each of the Florida Supreme Court justices and received daily help from them before the mock trial. “They are such nice, down-to-earth people,” LaVallee said. “As a teacher, it made you feel respected that they would take the time out of their busy schedule to socialize with us and help us.”
“Sitting in that beautiful court room was such an amazing experience,” LaVallee said. “The JTI is one of the best institutes I have ever attended.”