Baylor helps iCivics grow

    Berkley Knas
    Berkley Knas

    By Dan Henson

    Baylor’s Law School and School of Education together have brought Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s iCivics program from 400 Waco and Midway ISD students last spring to 2,000 today.

    O’Connor’s iCivics program provides primary and secondary school students with a learning experience by teaching them civics in a fun, Internet-based video game format.

    The students “don’t even realize that they are learning all about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” said Berkley Knas, director of alumni relations for Baylor Law School.

    “When Justice O’Connor retired, she became very aware of a lack of understanding of civics in America,” Knas said.

    O’Connor founded iCivics to reverse Americans’ declining knowledge and participation in civics in 2009.

    O’Connor wanted a way to incorporate the program into classrooms. She challenged Baylor President Ken Starr to develop and implement the program in Waco and Midway’s elementary school in 2011.

    Baylor Law Alumna Wendy May works closely with Justice O’Connor, as the iCivics Texas State Coordinator seeking out new schools in which to implement the program.

    When she joined Starr for his “On Topic” series last spring, O’Connor pointed out that the original purpose of founding public schools in the U.S. was to teach civics, as well as the fact that many states are pulling civics from the curriculum entirely to focus on mathematics and science.

    According to third-year law student Alaina Smith, the law students originally started by sitting in on classes and answering questions at Bell’s Hill Elementary School, until Baylor Law decided to get more involved.

    “The Baylor Law representatives are concentrated into fourth and fifth grade classes,” Smith said.

    Smith, along with two other Baylor Law School representatives, wrote lesson plans, called iPlans.

    These iPlans were designed to be user-friendly, requiring only 10-15 minutes of preparation for the law students to conduct in-class discussions.

    They included essential questions for the law school students to discuss with the class, step-by-step instructions of what to do while leading the school children in discussions, as well as additional resources, such as the Bill of Rights.

    “The students loved it,” Knas said. “They got to meet law students. They learned what an attorney was and what a judge was.”