2015 Sandra Day O’Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education Recipient

O'Connor Award Info

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Judicially Speaking


Judicially Speaking, a Colorado-based civics education program, has been named recipient of the 2015 Sandra Day O’Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education, presented annually by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). The award honors an organization, court, or individual who has promoted, inspired, improved, or led an innovation or accomplishment in the field of civics education related to the justice system. Details of the awards presentation have not been finalized.

NCSC President Mary C. McQueen said Judicially Speaking was selected, in part, because of its proven track record of “teaching young people about the realities of living in a society that embraces the rule of law. One of its strengths is its philosophy of learning by doing – judges going to classrooms, youth correctional facilities, and alternative schools not to lecture, but to interact with students to teach a deeper understanding about the role courts play in everyday life,” McQueen said.

Judicially Speaking stands apart from other programs because of its reach, its focus on teaching about the judiciary and the rule of law, and because it can be easily replicated in other states. Judicially Speaking was started in 2009 by three local Colorado judges – David Shakes, Theresa Cisneros, and David Prince.  Since its inception, the program has spread statewide reaching thousands of middle- and high-school students and has been integrated into Colorado’s social studies curriculum. The program also is being used in Colorado juvenile correction facilities and the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind.

Colorado Chief Justice Nancy E. Rice, who endorsed the program’s nomination, said, “I am delighted that Judicially Speaking has received this national recognition. Judges Cisneros, Prince, and Shakes have done a tremendous job developing this valuable educational program and fully deserve this honor.”

Judge David Prince of Colorado’s 4th Judicial District, said he and his colleagues are honored by the national recognition. “Judicially Speaking is a collaborative program made possible by 100-plus judges and educators who have dedicated their time and creativity to improving public education about what judges do.  We greatly appreciate Justice O’Connor and NCSC honoring our efforts. All that we as a people and as individuals treasure about our country flow from the rule of law, which ultimately rises and falls with the people’s support.  Judicially Speaking is dedicated to stoking that support through robust, creative, and engaging civics education.”

The program operates by judges working directly with students and teachers, going into the classroom -- not to lecture -- but to use interactive exercises that allows students to gain a strong understanding of how judges makes decisions. For example, a judge takes students through an exercise where students act as legislators to develop a law about when juveniles should be tried as adults in criminal court. The students then change roles and work in small groups to apply the law they just created to real-life cases. The judge leads the class discussion about the cases as students report how they applied the law. By actually experiencing the role of the judge in applying the law to particular cases, the students learn by doing.