Middle school students compete in 'Rule of Law' essay contest

CAMDEN, New Jersey (WPVI) -- "Especially with fifth and sixth graders, they have an instinct about the rule of law," said Matthew Tom. "And having lawyers and judges there to pull it out of them, it's just so important."

Tom is a lawyer and writing coach who currently serves as the Judicial Law Clerk for the Honorable Marjorie Rendell, a judge with the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Tom visited Copewood Middle School in Camden, New Jersey, to help students craft an entry for an ongoing competition.

"We're having the bar associations, lawyers, judges actually go into schools like I have today and work with the students to put together essays," he said.

The Courts, Community, and Rule of Law Committee of the Judicial Council of the Third Circuit is challenging students across the tri-state area to learn and write about the rule of law. All fifth and sixth-grade students in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are invited to participate.

Students seem excited for the opportunity.

"It's important not only to us, but important to our families and the school because we can get an education based off of it and have a little fun doing it," said 10-year-old Alanah Lopez.

The entry deadline was originally set in mid-March. But a recent surge in interest has pushed the due date to March 31, 2022. Organizers are hoping the extension will allow more students like Alanah to get involved and learn about the judicial branch of government.

"We as courts are a positive force. We are there to help people," said Judge Marjorie Rendell. "And we think getting in the community and promoting an understanding of what we do is really important."

Winners of the competition will be invited into their local courthouses to meet with officials and speak about their essay and accomplishments. Staff at Copewood Middle School said it would be a dream come true to win in their first official year as an institution in the Camden community.

"It would validate all the hard work that they do," said Principal Michelle Wallace about her students. "Sometimes in our world, when they hear where they're from or who they are, they prejudge themselves."

The school's inaugural fifth-grade class will be submitting one essay after compiling each student's ideas together. They hope their combined brain power will lead to a victory.

"Just to be on the same level with everyone else, that people are recognizing their brilliance because they are brilliant," Principal Wallace added.

Schools in the tri-state area are encouraged to adopt the essay contest and may request online or in-person support from local lawyers and judges like Matthew Tom and Judge Rendell. For more information and a full list of requirements, visit their website.

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