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Judicial Branch Introduces New Curriculum for High Schools on Connecticut Courts

HARTFORD - The Connecticut Judicial Branch, in collaboration with the Justice Education Center, Inc. and the Connecticut Judges Association, has developed an interactive curriculum for high school students, entitled Connecticut Courts. The curriculum, which took almost a year to develop, will be introduced to high school social studies teachers in three conferences this March, beginning on Tuesday, March 13, 2001 at Danbury Superior Court.

"The purpose of the curriculum is to provide high school students with a thorough understanding of the rule of law, the role of the courts in society and the structure and function of the Connecticut Judicial Branch as it relates to the two other independent branches of government," said Judge Joseph H. Pellegrino, Chief Court Administrator of the Connecticut Judicial Branch. "The Judicial Branch is pleased to provide this invaluable resource to Connecticut high school teachers."

The curriculum was developed to be easily incorporated into high school government or United States history classes in seven, 40-minute segments or three 90-minute blocks, with the option of unlimited expansion and exploration.

"The Connecticut Court Curriculum fills a void by making available to teachers a comprehensive curriculum on our state court system, in an informative and interesting format," said Theodore S. Sergi, State of Connecticut Commissioner of Education. "In addition to providing students with information about the administration of justice, this curriculum fulfills a part of the state's civics course requirement."

The curriculum design team consisted of a Superior Court judge, three high school social studies teachers, a University of Connecticut history professor, two Judicial Branch staff professionals and one educational consultant.

"This curriculum will provide high school students an understanding of a strong independent judiciary as an essential part of our government as well as the knowledge of how our court system actually operates," said Judge John P. Maloney, a member of the curriculum development team.

The curriculum fulfills critical components of the Connecticut State Social Studies Curriculum framework.

"In terms of program goals, Connecticut Courts encourages students to demonstrate knowledge of how people create rules and laws to regulate the dynamic relationships of individual rights and societal needs," said Melissa A. Farley, Executive Director of External Affairs for the Judicial Branch and a member of the curriculum development team. "Connecticut Courts seeks to develop civic knowledge of the court system in all students, including those who may feel alienated or intimidated by the judicial structure."

In addition to the introduction of the curriculum in Danbury, conferences will be held at New Britain Superior Court on March 19, 2001 and New London Superior Court on March 23, 2001.

The all-day conferences will include morning presentations by judges and other court officials, demonstrations of how to conduct a mock trial and observations of a Superior Court proceeding and a criminal arraignment. In the afternoon the teachers will be given an overview of the curriculum, a discussion of the lesson plans and a viewing of one of two videos.

That video, The Case of Michael T., is a fictional account of a domestic violence case in which a young man (Michael T.) is accused of assaulting his high school girlfriend. The film follows Michael through the judicial process and the facts that are considered when determining whether to grant the defendant the Family Violence Education Program, a pre-trial diversionary program or schedule the defendant for trial. At the end of the video, the students are asked to decide whether to grant the defendant admission into the pre-trial diversionary program or schedule him for trial.

"Connecticut Courts was not designed to deliver traditional lectures and elicit simple responses to traditional questions," said Susan Hoffman Fishman, an education consultant contracted by the Justice Education Center. "Special care was taken to ensure that the work would be intellectually stimulating, but also engaging for the students. The curriculum includes a variety of innovative classroom activities and provides two videos for classroom use."

When the draft of the curriculum was completed after a 6-month development process, the Judicial Branch invited high school social studies teachers from around the state to preview the lessons and provide comments and suggestions to the development team.

Over 40 teachers attended the focus group session and many of their suggestions were incorporated into the final curriculum product.

"These units will be fabulous additions to any curriculum on government," said Stephen Armstrong, Social Studies Chairperson, Manchester High School and a member of the design team. "I recommend them to any high school currently creating a civics class, or who already has one. These units place the judiciary "first", which is something most studies of government do not do."

In addition to Armstrong, other members of the Curriculum Design Team are: Catherine Cerrina, Law-related education and Social Studies teacher, Manchester High School; Sandra Clark, History and Social Studies teacher at Hill House High School in New Haven; Melissa A. Farley, Esq., Executive Director of External Affairs, Connecticut Judicial Branch; Susan Hoffman Fishman, Education Consultant to the Justice Education Center, Inc.; Dr. Larry Goodheart, Associate Professor of History, University of Connecticut; Hon. John P. Maloney, Superior Court judge since 1981; JosÚ RenÚ Mart¨nez, Community Outreach Coordinator, External Affairs, Connecticut Judicial Branch.

For questions or information regarding media attendance at the conferences, please call Ginny Apple, Manager of Communications, 860-757-2270.


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