Sarah Segal was just one of the 40 secondary-school educators honored with $1,000 for her innovative First Amendment teachings in the classroom. The 1 For All First Amendment Challenge winner teaches sixth-grade literacy, language arts and social studies of the ancient American cultures at Hood River Middle School in Hood River, Oregon. She also teaches sixth- through eighth-grade enrichment courses, including Constitutional law, Oregon history and museum design.
Students in Segal’s class researched the history of Japanese-American incarceration during WWII and interviewed community members in their town.
“For this project, my middle school students delved first-hand into the entire First Amendment process, learning about the original reasons behind the Founding Father’s creation of the five freedoms all the way through taking civic action in the form of free speech.”
Students learned that Minoru ‘Min’ Yasui recognized that his rights as a U.S. citizen were being violated, and, therefore, it was his responsibility to intentionally challenge the government’s Executive Order 9066.
Yasui was a Japanese American lawyer from Hood River. After the bombing on Pearl Harbor, Yasui fought laws that directly targeted Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants. His case was the first to test the constitutionality of the curfews targeted at minority groups. His case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where his conviction for breaking curfew was affirmed. In 1986, his criminal conviction was overturned by the federal court. Segal said the students exercised their First Amendment freedoms through advocating for Yasui to be recognized as a national hero.
Segal said every community has heroes who employ their First Amendment rights for the betterment of the United States, the environment and humanity as a whole.
“I encourage journalism teachers and their students to discover these heroes,” she said. “Research their circumstances, interview people, learn their stories, and encourage students to connect to why and how these heroes intentionally exercise the First Amendment.”
She said it is important that students reflect on their learning, how their First Amendment hero influences them and how they might purposefully use their individual power of expression in their lives.
“I feel like the Min Yasui story must be told, and it must be part of a national discussion and curriculum,” Segal said.
In addition to teaching the First Amendment, Segal integrated the five freedoms across all teaching units. By quarter, these units include Mexican-American Patterns of Migration, Civil Rights Movement, Rise of Nazism and Native-American Experiences. Within each of these curricular units, materials accessed included Supreme Court cases, activist oral or written testimony, and art and music analysis.
As a teacher, Segal said it is more important than ever that students understand that they can purposefully exercise their rights and responsibilities through the use of technology. Segal said these constitutional rights come with a great deal of responsibility.
“Middle school students are continually testing boundaries through expression of clothing, choice in music, negotiation with adults and interactions with peers,” she said. “However, adolescence, now more than ever, has potential access to almost unlimited free speech via various forms of technology.”
Nick Popadich received the 1 For All honor after using online polling and social media to teach students about court cases dealing with the First Amendment. Popadich teaches sophomore through senior English at Grand Blanc High School in Grand Blanc, Michigan.
“The more we can keep current on court cases and modes of sharing that knowledge, the more articulate our students will be about their rights,” he said.
Popadich asked students to read articles from the First Amendment Center and then create brief polls on three cases in language their peers would understand. Afterwards, students responded with their thoughts on how each case was handled through social media. The students tweeted these polls to their friends and then analyzed their results.
“Students came away from the assignment not only knowing more about First Amendment protections dealing with social media, but they were able to use social media to inform and engage their peers,” he said.
Popadich said he encourages his students to provide a unique student voice in their publications, even about topics that are controversial.
“Too often students are ready to self-censor themselves when they sign up for a publications class,” he said. “They don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”
Popadich said student publications are trusted with starting that dialogue between the administration and the students.
“Along with training them in ethics, libel and privacy issues, I have them read model publication policies from places like the Student Press Law Center and encourage them to use the service if they feel like they need to,” he said. “Most importantly, I have them create a good rapport with our administration and support staff so that they can get the information they need without having to file a FOIA request.”
“Our First Amendment rights are at the core of our democracy,” Popadich said. “I am proud to have helped students stand up for those rights.”
For more information on the Challenge or a complete list of winners, check out a previous article from SchoolJournalism.org. The 1 for All First Amendment Challenge was funded by a generous grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. 1 for All is a national nonpartisan programdesigned to build understanding and support for the First Amendment freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. 1 for All provides teaching materials and lesson plans at 1forall.us to help everyone learn more about their First Amendment rights.