Constitution Day: Local lawyers make it real for kids

 By Jo Mathis?

Dolan Media Newswires
Thanks to 58 local law professionals and law students, about 3,000 Ann Arbor middle schoolers know a bit more about the U.S. Constitution.
In 2004, Constitution Day was established nationally to educate the public about the all-important document that turned 226 on Sept. 17.
Attorney Lori Buiteweg is the driving force for this event in Ann Arbor, and each year makes arrangements for volunteers to get into the schools to talk about the Constitution.
She’s convinced it’s a win-win.  
“Volunteers recharge their legal batteries and sense of pride about being lawyers when they explain the most basic American rules of law from the Bill of Rights to young students on Constitution Day,” said Buiteweg.
Buiteweg said she was especially happy to welcome Judge Carol Kuhnke to the list of volunteers this year and hopes other judges follow suit in years to come.
This was attorney Kevin Corbin’s second year talking to middle school students about the Constitution, and he plans to volunteer every year he’s able from now on because he thinks its’ crucial to get kids thinking about their government and the law at an early age.
“The kids are very receptive to the discussion,” he said.  “As a presenter, you have to remember that you are presenting to middle school kids.  I tend to focus on the big issues, and try to relate the presentation to the kids themselves and things they are interested in.  For example, since my presentation deals with Equal Protection and discrimination, I ask the kids to think about their backgrounds and how Equal Protection may affect them in their everyday lives.”     
 “This event gives lawyers a chance to interact with middle school age kids and discuss the Constitution and the law,” he said. “I also really like interacting with kids this age, because they ask such great questions and are usually very open to seeing all sides of an issue.  Finally, I enjoy doing this because it is a great way for lawyers to make a positive contribution to their community. 
Attorney Thomas Bourque said that the Tappan Middle School students he taught were especially receptive after he got them involved in an exercise in which they tried to decide how certain cases would turn out.  
 “I participated because I think all kids should have a reasonable idea how the government works and what rights they have¬–and the limits on those rights on occasions–and because it is fun to talk with students,” he said. 
And quite by coincidence, he used an example of the 1968 Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District case in which peace sign armbands were considered protected speech.  
One of the students noted a local link to the Tinker family, which a Google search confirmed.
“Another  small world moment,” Bourque said.
K. Orlando Simón has been teaching middle schoolers about the Constitution for five years now.
“I really do believe the Constitution is the cornerstone to our society and the ideal of democracy,” said the attorney.  “I also believe it is important for attorneys to participate in the community.  I cannot think of a better way to do that than to get into the local schools and work directly with young people. And finally, we have to keep the Constitution alive by encouraging the next generation to get to know it.”