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October 2011

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Learning Center Teaches Scouts About Citizenship

This past summer, 53 Boy Scouts spent time at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri’s Learning Center in St. Louis earning a merit badge on the path to becoming Eagle Scouts— and informed citizens.

Of the 120-plus merit badges a Boy Scout may earn, and the 15 required to become an Eagle Scout, only one badge addresses what it means to be a citizen of the United States: the Citizenship in the Nation merit badge.

Rachel Marshall is the public education and community outreach administrator at the court and directs the Learning Center’s programs in the Eagleton Courthouse. She’s also a Merit Badge Counselor.

“To be a Merit Badge Counselor, you must be associated with the content of the merit badge, either as a hobby or a job,” explains Marshall. “That’s a good fit for what I do here in our Learning Center.”

The merit badge requirements teach scouts about their national and state representatives, about national issues and current events, and about the key documents of our democracy—including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. To earn the badge, scouts must tour a federal facility and also be able to name the three branches of the federal government, explain their functions, and the importance of the system of checks and balances.

That’s where the Learning Center comes into play.

“Our interactive exhibits highlight the executive and legislative branches, with a special focus on the judicial branch,” said Marshall. “Even if they’ve had social studies in school, they’re usually surprised at how much they don’t know about how their government is structured.”

In addition to the Learning Center, the summer Merit Badge workshop at the Eagleton Courthouse also took the scouts to the jury assembly room, and showed them a district courtroom where they observed a judicial proceeding. A deputy U.S. marshal and two probation officers Learning Center Teaches Scouts About Citizenship continued from page 1 —all Eagle Scouts—plus two district court judges, each taught different parts of the badge requirements.

Because the merit badge also requires scouts to tour a location on the National Historic Register, a partnership was formed with the National Park Service. Less than a mile from the Eagleton Courthouse is St. Louis’ historic courthouse, the location of the famous Dred Scott trial. The day started there with a ranger-led tour of the old courthouse.

Someone who usually finds the time to talk to the scouts about the federal court system is Judge Rodney Sippel, an Eagle Scout, and also a scout leader and Merit Badge Counselor.

“The skills the scouts learn, and the knowledge they gain earning the Citizenship in the Nation merit badge are their building blocks,” said Sippel. “We’re giving them the tools to be productive members of society and good citizens.”

Two to three scout groups visit the court and Learning Center per year, with visits from Webelos to Boy Scouts. This winter, a careers in justice program will be held for Girl Scouts. Overall, nearly 2,000 people take adv antage of the courthouse tour program annually. Marshall also organizes in-depth programs for Constitution Day, Law Day, and several workshops for teachers.

Last month the Judicial Learning Center at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, St. Louis, hosted a troop of Webelos, the Cub Scout program just before Boy Scouts. Judge Rodney Sippel welcomed the group and Deputy Chief Probation Offi cer Scott Anders talked about what a probation offi cer does. The Webelos also observed two hearings in the district court and explored the Learning Center with a scavenger hunt activity.