Marla James, a member of Union Catholic’s faculty since 2005, recently received a great honor when she was selected to be a member of Bill of Rights Institute (BRI) Teachers Council.
Mrs. James was chosen from among more than 100 teachers who applied to serve on the 2022-2023 Teacher Council.
The BRI selects teachers with innovative ideas on civics courses/lessons to meet the changing educational needs of the current environment, and teachers who want to expand the impact they have beyond their own classroom and be part of the national dialogue about the future of civics and history in our country.
The Council meets monthly and advises the Institute on strategic initiatives by providing feedback on classroom resources and best practices in student learning, and assists the BRI with regional civics initiatives, including–but not limited to–writing projects, editing projects, and resource renewal projects.
Here is a Q and A with James, who also serves as the moderator for UC’s student-run newspaper, “The Prophet.’’
What does it mean to you to receive such a great honor? More than 100 teachers were considered for this position, so you must be very proud and honored to have been accepted?
I am extremely honored and excited to be working with the Bill of Rights Institute. Having been selected from among more than 100 teachers who applied to serve on the 2022-2023 Teacher Council is an incredible opportunity, and I feel very blessed and grateful. I have used materials and lessons from the Bill of Rights Institute in my AP U.S. Government and Politics for many years, and I find them to be very well-developed and engaging for the students. The Institute has an impeccable reputation as a provider of classroom resources.
What excites you the most about being on this council? What are some of your goals, and what type of initiatives are you and the council currently working on?
The BRI Teacher Council is a national collaborative body, and I will be serving as one of the representatives from New Jersey who provides feedback to the Institute. BRI employs the Council to help inform their resource development, distribution of current events/news-related materials, and ongoing dialogues about addressing sensitive or complex issues with students. On a monthly basis, I will also be assisting with creating and revising BRI projects, curricula, and tool boxes. Specific tasks will be assigned to me on a monthly basis, either to work on individually or as part of a committee.
One of the areas about which I am really excited is working with the BRI on their digital presence; online learning is a favorite passion of mine. In addition to creating my own courses for Union Catholic, I have written and designed curricula for the Virtual High School, so I have VHS training in virtual design, and I am currently working on my doctorate in education with a specialization in online learning. Consequently, I also see my BRI involvement as a great learning opportunity to expand my digital curriculum development skills.
Have you had your first council meeting yet? If so, what was that experience like? Were you able to provide feedback on classroom resources and best practices in student learning or anything else?
We are scheduled to meet for the first time at the end of this month. However, prior to my appointment, I worked on piloting two civics lessons for the BRI this past spring. Created digital versions of these economic policy lessons and the student response was excellent. The materials were very Gen Z-friendly and good examples of culturally responsive instruction. The students really related to the topics because as seniors and juniors, they are well aware of the increase in gas prices, and the projects are aligned with something the kids definitely care about and are impacted by.
In what ways do you feel your experiences as a teacher/moderator of The Prophet at Union Catholic helped prepare you for your role on the Bill of Rights Institute (BRI) Teachers Council?
As the moderator for the school newspaper, I work with students on covering current events topics on a daily basis. However, my second master’s degree is in history, so I have a strong background in US history. My experience as an AP Government & Politics teacher also prepared me for this role not only through classroom preparation and experience but also because of the numerous AP workshops I have been fortunate to attend through the support of UC. In fact, I just completed a week-long seminar in Vermont that merged AP instruction with project-based learning.
Feel free to add anything you’d like to share about this incredible achievement of being selected to serve on the Bill of Rights Institute (BRI) Teachers Council?
This is an incredible opportunity for me to represent Union Catholic and to have a constructive national voice. However, more than anything, I see it as a learning opportunity and a chance to collaborate with teachers from around the country to promote the teaching of our nation’s history and government. Civics, whether it is AP Gov, current events, or another offering, is essential to the community-minded development of our youth. It is very important for our students to evolve into engaged, contributing members of society who believe they can affect change. The Gen Z students we have now will shape our government and society in future years. Whatever careers they choose, they will all be members of society, so it is essential that we inspire students and teach them agency to make their voices heard and impact the future in a manner that aligns with the principles and values honed here at UC.