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Taking time for civics education

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A group of about 30 Munster High School students enjoyed their time with We the People program coordinators from the Indiana Bar Foundation, attorneys, and others who helped judge their presentations April 6 at Baker & Daniels' downtown Indianapolis office. This was the firm's fifth time hosting an Indiana We the People team just weeks before the national competition, which takes place April 22-27.


While the We the People program in Indiana is supported in large part by the IBF, practice days have taken place at the law firm since spring windstorms damaged the Indiana State Bar Association's offices at the Regions Bank Building in 2006. That year, Baker & Daniels attorney and We the People alum Caryn Glawe suggested the firm could host the team that would represent Indiana at the national championships in Washington, D.C.

The first and subsequent groups of students have been particularly impressed not only with their day at a big law firm, including views of downtown Indianapolis from the 27th floor, but also that attorneys would take the time out of their busy schedules to work with them, said Erin Braun, director of civic education for the IBF.

As part of the visit, Thomas C. Froehle Jr., firm chair and chief executive partner, told students he was thrilled that the firm was able to host their visit.

B&D partner and We the People volunteer Scott Chinn also addressed the students, comparing their work to that of the Butler University basketball team.

Like the team that lost the NCAA Division I men's basketball championship by one basket in a nail biter the night before, Chinn said the key things for the students to keep in mind for the upcoming competition are execution, character, and enthusiasm. He added they should plan, as citizens, to participate by voting, to educate others about the issues while being respectful of opinions that are different from their own, and to remonstrate when they have reason to disagree with the direction the government is heading, based on what they learned in the We the People courses.

As for practice sessions, one group compared the Magna Carta, the U.S. Bill of Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Judges for this group said the students did well overall and gave them a few pointers to impress the judges at the national level.

Judges for the practice session included former ISBA president Rich Eynon; Jill Baisinger, the Hamilton Southeastern High School teacher who helped her school's team win fifth place in the national competition in 2009; Seth Lahn, a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law - Bloomington; and Mark Sausser, an attorney at Baker & Daniels. "When we take on the rigors of civic education with the vigor generally reserved for sport, and when the arena we play in is one of the top law firms in the state, there is something right in society," said Michael Gordon, the teacher for the Munster students.

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