Tuesday, March 10, 2020

We the People

The Vermont State Finals of the We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution took place at the Vermont History Museum and Statehouse Pavilion yesterday. After a hiatus in attendance due to the elimination of federal funding for the program, Martha Deiss, Global Citizen Specialist at the Agency of Education, kickstarted, organized and facilitated this year’s competition so that Vermont could send a team to Washington, D.C.  VBA member volunteers jumped at the opportunity to judge the students at the event, to the extent that we had to turn volunteers away!

Students from St. Johnsbury Academy, Poultney High School and Williamstown High School competed and impressed at the event. Judges were blown away by the students’ knowledge, poise and passion for civics as they presented arguments on issues ranging from voting rights to separation of powers, from citizenship to populism and everything in-between.  Each team of three students are given 4 minutes to present on questions chosen by the judges from a list of potential questions provided to the students in advance.  After these presentations, the fun really began as the students were peppered with follow-up questions for six minutes-- questions not provided in advance.

As the students explored basic constitutional provisions on issues relating to voting rights, due process, shared sovereignty, speech and the like, they quickly pulled historical and current examples to the fray, not shying away from hot topics such as non-citizen voting, marijuana legislation and the rise of nationalism. All involved couldn’t help but be awash with pride as so many young people engaged in meaningful discourse regarding civics. Kudos to the teacher-coaches for prepping these amazing students who will undoubtedly and forever be engaged citizens!

Each high school team was asked a specific question from each of 6 units: (1) What Are the Philosophical and Historical Foundations of the American Political System; (2) How Did the Framers Create the Constitution; (3) How Has the Constitution Been Changed to Further the Ideals Contained in the Declaration of Independence; (4) How Have the Values and Principals Embodied in the Constitution Shaped American Institutions and Practices; (5) What Rights Does the Bill of Rights Protect and (6) What Challenges Might Face American Constitutional Democracy in the Twenty-First Century? Winners were awarded for each of the 6 units, with the team with the most unit-wins being crowned the overall State Champion. Congratulations to all unit winners and to St. Johnsbury Academy for taking home the trophy! Enjoy the pictures from the event, including the pizza party awards ceremony, below.

Special thanks to our attorney judges: Megan Campbell, Lauren Curran, Dylan Giambatista, Jacob Humbert, Evan Meehan, Keith Roberts, Jenny Ronis, Avi Springer, Alfonso Villegas and Leslie Welts, to Martha and her volunteers and to all the folks at the Vermont History Museum and Vermont Building & Grounds.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Congratulations to VBA’s Third Annual MLK, Jr. Poster/Essay Contest Winners!

The Vermont Bar Association, in partnership with its Diversity Section and Young Lawyers Division, sponsored its third annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Poster-Essay Contest to celebrate the life and message of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Middle school students were asked to create a poster and write a short essay interpreting what Dr. King’s “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it’s the presence of justice” quote means to them.  One winner and two runners-up were selected by the committee from the creative and thoughtful entries from all over the state.

VBA President Beth Novotny welcomed the winners and guests in the governor’s ceremonial office on January 22, 2020.  She thanked the VBA and its Diversity Section and Young Lawyers Division for their efforts and praised the governor for his long-standing commitment to education. President Novotny remarked that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message should be celebrated and discussed every day and that the contest is a wonderful way to keep the discussion alive. Before introducing the governor, she welcomed the VBA YLD members in attendance (Pam Eaton and Molly Gray) and the VBA Diversity section members in attendance (Jessica Brown and Judge Nancy Waples) and thanked the VBA, represented by Executive Director, Teri Corsones and Education and Communication Director, Jennifer Emens-Butler and all the legislators, family and friends in attendance.

Governor Phil Scott then spoke of the importance of Dr. King’s message, and stressed how we must look to today’s youth to be our future leaders. He proudly asserted that despite today’s divisive climate, young people show us daily how to work together to find solutions, how to see good in everyone and how to live by the golden rule. He proceeded to visit with each of the winners to discuss their work and present the awards to the winning students. 

Nicolas Milazzo and Zachary Davis, 8th graders from Poultney High School, were presented with the first-place plaque and traveling trophy for their school. Elizabeth Cunningham, a 7th grader from Edmunds Middle School in Burlington, received the first runner-up plaque and the team of Kaitlyn DeBonis and Courtney Ezzo, 8th graders also from Poultney High School, received second runner-up plaques. Since Poultney High School took first and third place, the Governor asked English and Language Arts teacher Dawn Sarli the secret of their success. Dawn remarked that the kids were inspired by the endless possibilities evoked by the selected quote and also by their current unit reading and discussing Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor.  

The students and their teachers and families were photographed with their winning submissions and Governor Scott. After the ceremony, the group attended a statehouse tour and then were invited to the Vermont Supreme Court where they were greeted by Chief Justice Paul Reiber. Justice Reiber visited with and congratulated the students and spoke to the importance of Dr. King’s legacy. Justices Harold Eaton, Karen Carroll and William Cohen were also in attendance to meet with the students and families and Justice Eaton treated the students to a tour of the courtroom (complete with a joke about the purpose of the long ceiling chain) and his personal chambers!

The students’ posters and essays will be on display at the Supreme Court building throughout the month of January. They will also be featured in the Vermont Bar Journal.  Please scroll down to see the winning submissions and all the photos from the ceremonies.

The VBA would like to congratulate all of the participants who submitted such excellent entries.  Special thanks to Governor Scott, the Sergeant-at-Arms and Chief Justice Reiber, Justice Eaton, Justice Carroll and Justice Cohen, as well as to all of their staff members for making the event so memorable for the winning students, their teachers and families.  

Parents and teachers should watch for notices in October for next year's contest which is destined to be another success!