Civics education is all fun and games at Jefferson Middle School

October 28, 2011

It was a “Supreme” day at Jefferson Middle School this week when two Northside ISD namesakes visited to promote civics education.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was joined by Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson to demonstrate iCivics, an interactive, online educational program conceived by O’Connor after she retired from the Supreme Court in 2006.

“To my dismay, half the states today no longer make civics or government a requirement by the time you get out of high school,” O’Connor said. “Texas still does, so I’m glad about that, but it seemed to me there was a gap in learning.

On the last nationwide civics assessment, more than two-thirds of students scored below proficiency, according to iCivics, which uses games to teach children about their constitutional rights and how to participate in local government. It’s being introduced to schools across the nation, and Jefferson Middle School is the first school in Northside ISD to use the free program.

“I’m hoping Texas will continue to be a leader in pointing the way for use of iCivics,” said O’Connor, who grew up in El Paso.

Madeline McCloskey, a seventh grade history teacher at Jefferson, said it’s difficult to get students interested in government.

“They like watching COPS and they know you can’t search someone’s house without a warrant, but they don’t know what rights go along with that,” she said. “(iCivics) is a really easy way to get them interested.”

Her students have responded enthusiastically to the games since they started using iCivics about six weeks ago, she said.

“They have no clue that we’ve totally duped them into learning,” she said. “By the time they get to the eighth grade STAAR, they’ll be ready.”

Sixth grader Hayden Ellis said the games make it easy to memorize facts.

“I wish all my classes were like that,” she said. “It’s a fun way to learn.”

The students demonstrated their knowledge of iCivics for O’Connor and Jefferson and got to shake hands with Justice O’Connor.

“It was exciting,” said seventh grader Victoria Gonzalez. “I’ve never gotten to meet someone that special before.”

Besides both being NISD namesakes, O’Connor and Jefferson have known each other for several years. Jefferson argued two cases before O’Connor in the 1990s, and O’Connor swore Jefferson into office in 2004.

O’Connor last visited NISD for the dedication of Sandra Day O’Connor High School in 1998. Wallace B. Jefferson Middle School opened in 2007.