Public School Education Committee

The A.C.E. Program

Advancing Civics Education (A.C.E.) is a program launched by the Philadelphia Bar Association in partnership with public schools in Philadelphia to provide supplemental civics education — in areas such as fundamental principles of citizenship, democracy and dispute resolution — to ninth-grade public school students.

Why civics education?

An understanding of civics, legal systems and civic participation is vital to the success of future generations. A.C.E. brings civics to life for Philadelphia high school students. This effort will complement the hard work of teachers and principals to create a bridge from middle school to high school that focuses upon each citizen's rights and responsibilities within our community, our Commonwealth and our rapidly changing world.

What can I do?

Volunteer to join a team! You will have ample opportunity to touch the lives of students while enriching your own citizenship. Participants will:

  • Work with other volunteer judges and lawyers to engage students in critical thinking about concepts of justice, civil rights and civic duty.
  • Connect with students one-on-one in the context of small group discussions, role plays and analysis of contemporary case law.
  • Empower students with a better grasp of the inner workings of our legal system while developing their academic, civic and communication skills.
  • Enhance dropout prevention by targeting ninth graders as they transition into high school.
  • Lead by example and model active participation in government.
  • Become involved in a meaningful way in the daily successes and challenges of public education.
  • Compare the U.S. Constitutional model to other historical forms of governance.
  • Expose students throughout the city to diverse attorneys and practice areas.

The A.C.E. Mission

The A.C.E. Program injects fundamental principles of citizenship, democracy and dispute resolution into the existing ninth-grade public school curriculum in Philadelphia and provides a fresh perspective on the core tenets that undergird our Constitutional legal system.

What can volunteer lawyers & judges expect?

Following a training in the summertime and background checks, volunteers will visit the same class once a month over the course of the school year. Using a simple, engaging civics curriculum woven into the ninth-grade world history course, small teams of volunteer lawyers and judges will build strong relationships with students as they encourage youth to reflect upon the vital role citizens play within our legal system. The time commitment required (training sessions, 9 to 10-hour long teaching sessions, and preparation time) is minimal when weighed against the impact that a volunteer can have as a mentor, teacher and community leader in the A.C.E. program.

The Philadelphia Bar Association's Ad Hoc Committee for Public School Education is partnering with administrators from the School District of Philadelphia to develop an appropriate program curriculum and bring A.C.E. into ninth-grade classrooms.

Frequently Asked Questions

In a nutshell, you will be part of a team of 3 to 5 lawyers and judges (the "legal team") who will attend the same class of ninth grade world history students once a month over the course of the school year. You will provide hands-on, interactive activities centering around concepts of justice, dispute resolution, and citizenship that illustrate the material that students have already studied. By providing these enrichment activities, your work will merely complement, not replace, the existing curriculum. At the end of the year, we will celebrate the students’ achievement and knowledge in a culminating event that brings together all of what we have learned during the year.

You will teach nine sessions that last from 45-55 minutes per class and attend the year-end event. Some minor preparation time before each class will be necessary to 1) familiarize you with the activity to be carried out with students, 2) coordinate with the legal team in terms of style and logistics and 3) develop a strong working relationship with the classroom teacher and, if applicable, the principal. To help you and the students get the most out of this program, a mandatory half day training and orientation for volunteers will take place in August. (You will have a choice of three dates to complete that training.) A second optional training after several months of the program will be offered in order to create an opportunity for feedback, questions, and classroom strategies.

While it may seem that U.S. History would be a better class in which to carry out a civics program, there are many compelling reasons to offer A.C.E. at the ninth grade, world history level. First, freshmen are some of the students most at risk for dropout, and A.C.E. will provide additional incentives and adult support to prevent students from abandoning their education during the difficult transition from eighth to ninth grade. Second, the content of A.C.E. is designed to encourage students to think critically about their entire world and their role within it, not just about the United States. Providing a worldwide context for the concepts of individual rights, community responsibility, and citizenship will help students understand and embrace the duties and benefits of citizenship.

Absolutely not! A.C.E. content material consists of self-contained enrichment activities designed to complement, not add to or replace, the existing ninth-grade curriculum. Many volunteers hear "world history" worry that the content will lie outside their zone of comfort. Rest assured that the written materials will guide you through the short class session and that you will not have to know world history to accomplish the A.C.E. program's mission. You will not teach world history, and any fundamental background information that you will need will be at your fingertips. Instead, your role will be to facilitate critical thinking by students, serve as a role model for them, and carry out relatively short interactive activities (small group discussions or role playing) that bring the core tenets of civics to life.

Many local judges and attorneys have already volunteered to share their abilities with Philadelphia students. You are encouraged to select your teaching teammates if possible, but whether you approach us as an organized legal team of 3-5 people or on your own, we will ensure that you are working with a committed, prepared legal team of volunteers. A team of three to five volunteers allows small group interaction and role-playing activities that usually are not possible in a large classroom with one teacher, so you truly get to know your students as you return to their classroom multiple times during the year. Our partnership with the School District of Philadelphia also means that the finest and most motivated world history teachers in the city are competing to showcase A.C.E. in their classrooms. We hope that you will form a working relationship with your school’s teacher that will last throughout the year. At its core, A.C.E. is about forging connections between people and modeling the values of involvement, community and self-determination that are embodied in our legal system.

Unfortunately, the size of this program does not allow volunteers to choose a particular high school in which to teach, or a particular class schedule. You will receive your school assignment shortly before school begins in the fall. One of the benefits, and goals, of this program includes visiting neighborhoods where students actually live and learn. You will encounter students from a wide variety of backgrounds, and you will be exposing them to your diversity as well.

No. The School District does not require background checks because the teacher will be present during your time in the classroom, and because the legal profession is a self-policing organization with ethical guidelines and responsible members.

Each team will have a team leader who will serve as a liaison with the A.C.E. committee, which is comprised of members from the Bar Association and the School District of Philadelphia. Many of the lawyers who developed the A.C.E. program are former teachers who can help facilitate any necessary translation between law and education. You will be provided formal and informal ways to obtain the resources you need as part of this program, including a website on which to post feedback and obtain suggestions, and periodic e-mails containing teaching tips. Feel free to reach out to members of the A.C.E. organizing committee as reflected in the attached contact list at any time.

Judges and lawyers are busy people. Often, we want a "quick fix" or easy way to involve ourselves in what, at times, seem to be insurmountable problems faced by our region. Through the A.C.E. program, the Philadelphia Bar Association has identified a unique way that you can contribute much-needed resources to students in need of guidance and support. By attending one training session and 9 hour-long class sessions, you can show students that our legal system has a place for them, and that we are no longer willing to leave pressing educational issues to the government to solve. Anyone who has ever set foot in a Philadelphia public school knows that alongside the tremendous challenges faced by our educational system, there are inspiring success stories. You could be the one adult who ignites a passion for learning in a student, motivates college attendance, or gives that young person a reason to stay in school. Participating in the A.C.E. program will ensure that you have made a positive contribution to your community in a personal, tangible way.

Please dedicate your most valuable resources to this effort: your legal background, your energy, and your time. Thank you for being a part of Advancing Civics Education.