Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Supreme Court Educating Students in Person and Afar

The Supreme Court of Ohio has a mission to educate students across Ohio about the justice system. In certain instances, the Supreme Court brings that initiative directly to young Ohioans.

The Court’s most visible example of this is its Off-Site Court Program. Once or twice a year, the justices travel to an Ohio high school for a special session of the Court and hear oral arguments in front of high schoolers and other community members.

Teacher Carole Pontious and her students at Fayette Christian School were among the nearly 400 people to attend the latest Off-Site Court recently at Miami Trace High School. Pontious was equipped with a unique skillset for the occasion as both an educator and a lawyer.

“If you’re going to be a good attorney, you need the ability to communicate and [teach] your craft to the general public,” Pontious said.

Right after receiving her law degree in 1999, she started practicing law and teaching it as an adjunct professor specializing in business and real estate law. She only started teaching high school students in 2020 when Fayette Christian needed a social studies and civics teacher in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the lead up to the Court’s 80th presentation of the Off-Site program, Pontious utilized class time to prepare her students. The Supreme Court’s Civic Education team provides materials for Off-Site Court about the appellate process and the specifics of each oral argument, but the staff also has developed separate lesson plans that other teachers can incorporate year-round into government studies about Ohio’s judicial system. Under Advisement is a program that leads students through an in-depth study of an already-decided Supreme Court case utilizing original materials.

Pontious said the robust civic education resources kept her students engaged ahead of the occasion, turning “one suggested class period into an all-week event.”

After each oral argument, students discuss what they witness with the attorneys. It serves as an opportunity not only to better understand what happens during each side’s 15-minute presentation to the Court, but also to know more about the path to becoming a lawyer and what it’s like to be one.

“They saw the human side of each of those attorneys,” said Pontious. Students’ questions ranged from what work goes into a Supreme Court case to how to manage mental health when handling traumatic cases.

Fayette is the 72nd county to host Off-Site Court. County representatives – typically judges – invite the Supreme Court to their community. Once accepted, the Court then coordinates the logistics of the special session with an area high school to host the occasion and with neighboring high schools to attend.

The most recent instance was an experience for the students of Miami Trace, Fayette Christian, and Washington high schools. It was especially valuable for one of Pontious’ students, who has her sights set on the legal profession. 

Emily Barker, a senior, was a state winner of the Ohio American Legion’s Americanism and Government test. Her 98% score was the highest among other high school seniors for the exam that gauges national, state, and local civic education through a 50-question format – true and false, multiple choice, and fill-in-the-blank – and an essay. She also has earned an academic scholarship to Waynesburg University in Pennsylvania. Her scholarship program focuses on constitutional studies and moral leadership to prepare students for roles in law and government.

“I want to help people, and I want to go forward and just make the world a better place and improve our criminal justice system,” Barker said.

Barker was chosen to represent her school at a post-event luncheon hosted for the Court and the justices. In her speech, she shared her goal of one day becoming a state or federal prosecutor and her appreciation for all the lessons learned through Off-Site Court. Whether it was hearing advice from the justices about achieving career goals or learning more about Ohio’s court system, it all provided her knowledge that can be applied the same way Pontious did with her legal studies – to educate and aid others through the law. 

“This year, [the students and I] have had a lot of opportunities to learn,” Pontious said. “When you have an opportunity, whether it’s in class or a chance to meet and hear from Supreme Court justices, you run toward it.”