LEAP-Kids (Law, Education and Peace for Kids), led by Executive Director David Keller Trevaskis, promotes law-related and civic education (LRCE). Trevaskis is a lawyer/educator, a former third grade teacher with a masters degree in education who is an Olweus Certified Bullying Prevention Trainer.
LEAP-Kids, organized as a loose confederation of individuals and groups dedicated to social justice, houses the Pennsylvania Youth for Justice (YFJ) site, part of the national law-related education network established by the Department of Justice, and serves as the Pennsylvania LRCE center.
Although LEAP-Kids does a tremendous amount of contract and grant training, working with schools to promote everything from Olweus anti-bullying to youth courts, the heart and soul of the LEAP-Kids LRCE effort is its work in partnership with the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA). See http://pabar.org/public/lre/. The PBA runs five major LRCE programs across the commonwealth: Constitution Day; Project PEACE (Peaceful Endings through Attorneys, Children and Educators); Law Day; Mock Trial and Stepping Out for Seniors. The PBA/ LEAP-Kids support of these LRCE programs constitutes a major commitment each year to Pennsylvania LRCE efforts.
LEAP-Kids has been a proud partner with the PBA and many other organizations in promoting the PennCORD (Pennsylvania Coalition for representative Democracy) initiative of Third Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Marjorie “Midge” Rendell that began when the Judge served as First Lady of the Commonwealth. The program remains housed at the National Constitution Center (see http://constitutioncenter.org/ncc_edu_PennCORD.aspx).
A quick review of LEAP-Kids efforts highlights how the program supports the democratic education of the next generation of citizens and shows how LEAP-Kids is working with educators, students, community leaders and parents make a real difference in the commonwealth.
The Constitution Day program is a high profile celebration that allows thousands of Pennsylvania youth to show their affirmation of American citizenship in a variety of ways on a date near September 17th, Constitution Day, when the nation celebrates the anniversary of the ratification of the Constitution. One of the best programs takes place each year in Hollidaysburg where social studies teacher Don Imler brings hundreds of students and community leaders together to honor the rule of law. Hundreds of additional classrooms benefit from lessons focused on the Constitution that the PBA distributes prior to September 17th. These lessons, often developed in cooperation with LEAP-Kids over the years, underscore the importance of the rule of law and provide opportunities for educators and students to reflect on the fundamentals of democratic participants in our society. A classroom teacher can create a powerful lesson for students by simply analyzing the rules governing classroom behavior.
In the wake of 9/11, the September “Constitution Day” program has been used by many schools as their way of honoring our fallen heroes and fellow Americans.
The “Constitution Day” program works at any grade level and is the first major LRCE initiative of each school year.
The next program in the Pennsylvania LRCE school calendar year is the statewide mock trial program (MTP). MTP is one of the oldest law-related and civic education programs promoted by the PBA. Sponsored by the PBA’s Young Lawyer’s Division (YLD), the MTP annually involves more that 250 schools in a competition that selects Pennsylvania’s representative at the nationals. The MTP started in Philadelphia in 1979 under Beth Farnbach at the Temple University School of Law; Harrisburg attorney Camille Kostelac-Cherry took the program statewide in 1984.
One of the largest in the nation, the Pennsylvania Mock Trial Competition gives over 300 high school student teams from across the state the opportunity to act as lawyers and witnesses in simulated civil trials before actual judges and panels of juries. Lawyers volunteer to assist students as team advisors, scorekeepers and regional coordinators. Each year, the winning team goes on to represent Pennsylvania in the national competition, an event Pennsylvania has hosted twice, most recently in 2010 in Philadelphia.
Next up on the calendar is Project PEACE (Peaceful Endings through Attorneys, Children, and Educators). Organized by David Trevaskis for the Indiana State Bar Association and Indiana Office of the Attorney General in 1993, the program came to Pennsylvania as a safe schools effort following the tragedy at Columbine in 1999 as an elementary peer mediation and conflict resolution education program jointly sponsored by then Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher and the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA).
Project PEACE strives to reduce conflict and violence in Pennsylvania schools by teaching children, who are still in their formative years, how to alter their behavior, control their anger and resolve their disputes peacefully. The children become active participants in governing behavior in their classrooms by taking on the role of mediator and learning interpersonal conflict resolution skills. Anti-bullying education is provided so that students and adults can distinguish between disputes open to mediation and bullying behavior which requires adult intervention. Project PEACE promotes youth courts in secondary settings as part of an overall promotion of the concept of democratic discipline.
LEAP-Kids, through its efforts in educating citizens of alternative means of dispute resolution in the justice system, and Project PEACE, through its leadership in school based conflict resolution education, mediation training, anti-bullying education and youth court development, offer Pennsylvania schools specialized training in violence prevention. By exposing schools to various aspects of the law, students begin to cultivate a greater respect for the justice system; by participating in the Project PEACE program, students become engaged in improving the climate of their schools . The goals of Project PEACE are to:
- Promote conflict resolution as an important life skill;
- Develop awareness of and experience with various conflict resolution and mediation skills;
- Compare and contrast conflict at school and in the community with bullying;
- Introduce both Olweus bullying prevention and youth court;
- Provide opportunities for students/schools to network with attorneys and law and justice professionals; and
- Create a school-based plan to establish a peer mediation, anti-bullying and youth court program for the coming academic years.
Project PEACE is designed to begin at the elementary school level and work through the high school grades. In this era of high stakes testing, schools are hard pressed to find the time for programs such as project PEACE but Project PEACE schools report that they spend less time dealing with problems and have more time to focus on learning because of the commitment to democratic discipline at the core of Project PEACE.
Law Day, held each year on May 1st, provides the final LRCE event on the school calendar. The PBA produces and distributes each year a booklet of lessons designed for judges and lawyers to use when they visit classrooms. LEAP-Kids works with the PBA to produce the lesson materials for each Law Day.
Susan Etter coordinates law-related education programs and she can be reached for lesson materials, LRCE contests, supplies of pocket constitutions and gavel pencils, and much more at the PBA .
Beth Specker, the former Chief of Staff of Judge Rendell when she was First Lady, is another great Pennsylvania resource for law-related and civic education. She is part of the Continuing Education Program at Arcadia University and can be reached through the Arcadia website.