Program brings civic education to elementary school-aged children

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Kona Judges Wendy DeWeese and Margaret Masunaga create a video reading books by Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor on April 14 at Keahuolu Courthouse.

Kona judges Margaret Masunaga and Wendy DeWeese spent a lunch hour last week creating a special video, reading to elementary school students for the Reading &Robes program.

The National Judicial College, a college for judges, is a national program to bring civic education to schoolchildren through judges reading books.

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Masunaga heard about the program while attending the Asian Pacific American Bar Association conference in November in Austin, Texas. She said that is where she learned books written and autographed by Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor were available for judges who would like to participate.

Masunaga responded that West Hawaii was interested and on April 13 she received 25 books including “The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor,” a 343-page autobiography of the justice geared toward middle school students; and two reading books for elementary school students, “Turning Pages: My Life Story” and “Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You!,” which were also provided in Spanish.

“Konawaena Elementary School has participated in courtroom field trips in the past, so I contacted (third-grade teacher) Pattie Kunitomo and she was very excited,” said Masunaga. “Since we have had to shift from doing field trips to remote learning, she thought this was a great opportunity.”

Kunitomo said they are looking for ways to engage students and keep them feeling enthusiastic about doing the activities they provide, which at this point is waning as students remain out of school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So, I thought that this would bring them something different to look forward to,” she said. “I could see how it could be a welcomed change and more importantly, what an opportunity for the kids to get a free autographed book and learn about an important American.”

Masunaga hopes other elementary educators teaching remotely will contact her to participate.

Teachers will use the video as an assignment and have students write a report about the books read in the video. They will then pick the top student’s report and that student will receive an autographed copy of that book.

“I just ordered 10 more books today,” said Masunaga, adding that anyone who wants to purchase the signed books for $15 each can contact her at mkmasunaga@aol.com.

“I think a lot of students can connect to these books,” she said. “I think it’s timely because of what’s happening, where the students are at home. I think the children of Hawaii will connect to the stories because (Sotomayor) talks about Puerto Rico, eating mangoes and drinking coconut juice.”

Masunaga added that “Turning Pages” delivers the message that it’s OK to be a bookworm.

“I was a bookworm,” she said. “That expands your horizons of what’s out there in the world. Justice Sonia Sotomayor came from underprivileged background, but because of the love of reading, she went to college, law school, became a judge. If she could do it, anybody could do it.

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“With ‘Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You,’ the message is it’s OK to be different. We’re all different. It makes our community more interesting and fun.”

Email Laura Ruminski at lruminski@westhawaiitoday.com.

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