Small-Town Students See Big Possibilities at Supreme Court

Tours of the Supreme Court of Ohio and the historic Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center are in full swing.

One of the first visitors back in the building was Waylon Massie, an Advanced Placement government teacher at Jackson High School in southern Ohio. He was at the Moyer Judicial Center the last day it hosted tours in March 2020 before closures because of COVID-19.

“It’s been a long two years, but it’s neat to be back because it feels like we’ve come full circle,” said Massie, a teacher for 19 years.

As an educator, he’s a big believer in having his students explore possibilities beyond Jackson County, which is why he started taking class trips to the Supreme Court a decade ago. The initial visit was thanks to a court transportation grant, which offsets the cost of travel for a school district. Those grants will be available again in the fall. Massie sees value in the in-person experience of the Court as a worthwhile investment, even if his district has to cover the expenses.

“My kids don’t get to experience much in terms of civic institutions other than maybe a local city council meeting,” Massie said. “I want them to understand that this is their government, also.”

Preparation Enhances Experience
Social studies teachers know about state government. Lesser known might be practical educational opportunities where students can see the state judicial system in action. Massie’s familiarity with the Supreme Court’s offerings came through conversations with the Civic Education team. An email introduced him to school visits to the Moyer Judicial Center. After a couple trips, he discovered that students could also attend the Court’s oral arguments.

“That’s probably something a government teacher should know, but I didn’t know that it was open to the public here,” Massie said.

Since then, all his visits have included seeing the Court in session.

The appealing format is considerably different than what most of his teens watch on TV or in movies. To help them better understand the dynamics between the justices and attorneys, and the details of the cases, Massie incorporates the Court’s Civic Education materials about how Ohio’s courts operate and case previews into his curriculum.

Armed with that knowledge, the students can follow along. They can also observe how differently the proceedings play out in person.

“You think that [the justices] are going to look at [the case], they’re going to ask a question, and they’ll get the answer. And then you realize, ‘Oh, this isn’t questions. This is actual discussions,’” ​​said Caleb McGraw, one of Massie’s students.

Exposure Generates Enthusiasm
Lots of work goes into the planning for a school tour. Massie and other teachers must educate while fulfilling logistical and administrative requirements. That diligence has its rewards.

It can be the look of wonder when students gaze at the Moyer Judicial Center’s art deco grandeur. Or when chatter about prom and baseball on the way to the Supreme Court becomes lengthy conversations about discovery, amicus curiae, and other legal terms on the 90-minute ride home.

The biggest return on investment are the seeds that sprout into something years later.

“I now have four or five lawyers who are alums that have gone through this program,” Massie said.

One of his other students, Grant Mastin, is determined to join that pipeline. He’s had ambitions about becoming a lawyer. Those thoughts were reinforced when he saw the majestic building, the lively discussions during oral arguments, and the impact of courts in Ohio and beyond. In the Visitor Education Center, Mastin explored the numerous exhibits that detail significant Supreme Court decisions, revealing how the law is so important to everyone.

His teacher echoes that sentiment. And anyone can come and experience the justice system first-hand, from average citizens to prospective lawyers across Ohio in communities big and small.

“Even though we’re about as far away from this [setting] as you can be in Ohio, this is an opportunity that is accessible to them. They can become a lawyer, judge, or any professional who works in a place like the Supreme Court,” Massie said.

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