Educating young people about their constitutional rights has been a key component of the ACLU of Maine’s mission for well over a decade. In that time our program has grown step by step, and this year we are proud to say we reached more students and schools than ever before.

Last week we made our final presentation of the 2013-14 school year at Oak Hill Middle School in Sabattus, where we led an engaging discussion of solitary confinement and what the proper scope of the 8th Amendment should be. Between school visits like these in the spring and our three student conferences in the fall, we taught 1,871 students this year – by far a new record for our Bill of Rights Education Program.

One of our major goals every year is to reach the communities that don’t always benefit from face-to-face exposure to lawyers, non-profit organizers, and civil rights activists. That’s why we’re so happy that the students we taught this year didn’t just come from a few of the big towns around Portland, but rather 43 different schools in Maine, stretching as far south as York and as far north as Madawaska.

This year we spent an entire week in Aroostook County, visiting five schools and teaching more than 200 students there about the Bill of Rights. We traveled to other rural communities too, connecting with young people in towns like Greenville, Sullivan, and Newport, while logging nearly 4,000 miles on the road.

Sometimes for a school visit a teacher will ask us to address a particular subject that coincides with what their class is studying. Other times, like at our conferences, we present on topics we think are most important for students to be aware of. No matter what the topic we always strive to keep the focus on how the constitutional issue at hand directly affects young people. This means we talk a lot about things like police searches, free speech, students’ rights at school, and Maine’s new anti-bullying law, with a healthy dose of real-world case studies thrown in for good discussion.

As schools begin to let out for the summer, we’ll keep staying busy to get ready for next year. We’ve got some exciting projects in the works for the upcoming months, and as schools reopen their doors in August we’ll start registering classes for our annual student conferences. It’s been our privilege to speak with so many amazing young people and work with such dedicated teachers this year and we can’t wait to get back at it again this fall.

If you or someone you know would like us to visit your school, or to learn more about our fall student conferences, contact us at 774-5444 or