Montclair Public Schools
22 Valley Road, Montclair, NJ 07042
(973) 509-4000
Contact Us
Montclair Public Schools
Home » News

Civics and Government Institute Presents "We the People"

  Students face a panel of judges.
  Supt. Alvarez with students.
  Superintendent Alvarez spoke to students after the hearing about their preparation for the event.
  Dr. Alvarez with CGI founder Dennis Murray.
  CGI founder Dennis Murray with Dr. Alvarez.
  Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Assessment Terry-Trigg Scales, right, served as a judge at the “We the People” hearing, along with CGI teacher, Tom Manos, and 12 other judges.
  Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Assessment Terry-Trigg Scales, right, served as a judge at the “We the People” hearing, along with CGI teacher, Tom Manos, and 12 other judges.
  Students compare notes at the event.

At Montclair High School's Civics and Government Institute, staff members are engaged in nothing less than helping to create the future leaders of society. Whether bound for law practice or public service, students in the Civics and Government Institute (CGI) recieve a solid grounding in Constitutional ethics, the role of law in everyday life, American and world history — and how to present themselves before a panel of judges as contemporary thinkers, arbiters and interpreters of justice.

It's a tall order. But in the words of veteran teacher and CGI founder Dennis Murray, "It's fantastic to see these young people grow and develop before my eyes every year."

On January 9, the 2007 senior class of CGI —  some 54 students in all —  participated in a simulated prefessional hearing to determine which of them would advance to the state finals in February.

Staff members and community leaders, including Superintendent Frank Alvarez and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Terry Trigg-Scales attended the evening event, either to observe or to serve as judges. Throughout the course of the event, a series of three-member panels of judges faced alternating groups of four students each to ask questions in the manner of a real-world hearing. Such "mock hearings" took place simultaneously in the school's LGI room as well as several classrooms. 

"What ideas, born of the Renaissance, Enlightenment or the Reformation, influenced our concept of individuals' rights?" asked one of the judges.

"Draw some parallels for me between the invention of the printing press and the Internet," proposed another.

At the end of each timed hearing, the judges offered critique on the students' performance, not only for their benefit but for that of the assembled audience, which consisted of other CGI students hoping to qualify for the state competition.

"I think all four of you should speak once before any of you speaks a second time," offered one.

"Be ready for the hardball questions," advised Dennis Murray. "Stop and take a breath before you speak. Think about what you're going to say."

Mixed liberally among the advice and suggestions was praise.

"I was really impressed with not just your presentation but the ideas and content," said one judge, CGI teacher Tom Manos.

"I'm sitting here very proud," smiled Mrs. Trigg-Scales. "You all were very poised and animated. It didn't feel staged at all — it was very natural."

Called out one student from the audience: "Great job, guys!"

"We the People" is just one of the "public demonstrations of learning," in one teacher's words, hosted throughout the year to enhance students' understanding of the judicial process, influential epochs in history, and current events. The War Room, coming this spring, will turn one CGI classroom into a museum; and later this month, the Civil Rights Social Reform Panel will be held for sophomores.

"I think we were really solid tonight," said senior Cody Newman after the simulated hearing this month. He and fellow team members Ben Rosen and Alyson Gorun chatted with the Superintendent about the months of preparation that had gone into the event: "We started in September. We got together all through the [winter recess] and then we really kicked it up this past week."

Asked if she were nervous prior to the hearing, Alyson Gorun laughed. "Of course," she said.

The day after the hearing, the winning team was announced: Bill Wingren's class.

"It was insanely close," Mr. Wingren said. "They won by one point. That's never happened before."

The class will head for Trenton on February 9 and, if they qualify, proceed to the national competition later in the spring.

Judges at the January 9 "We the People" event were William Gibney, MHS Assistant Principal; Harold Steinbach, attorney; Greer Burroughs, professor, Seton Hall University; Tom Manos, CGI teacher; Richard Gutman, attorney; Terry Trigg-Scales, Montclair Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction; Dennis Murray, lead teacher, CGI; George Burroughs, MHS Social Studies Department Chair; Hon. Shelia Y. Oliver, New Jersey State Assemblywoman; Beryl Steinbach, atterney and CGI teacher; Jonathan Meyer, MHS teacher; Jennifer Shumpert, MHS teacher; Ted Mattox, Councilman-at-Large, Montclair township; and John Reichman, attorney. 

Article Date: Jan 12, 2007