Trish Baumgartner receives 2020 E.A. Richter Award
Social studies is about broadening one’s understanding of different cultures, ethnicities, and religions, a goal Trish Baumgartner doesn’t take lightly. As Festus’ Jefferson High School social studies chair, Baumgartner is constantly on the hunt for new ways to teach citizenship education, from mock trials and congressional hearings to weekly speakers.
For her drive to improve citizenship education, Baumgartner received The Missouri Bar’s 2020 E.A. Richter Award for Excellence in Citizenship Education. Named after E.A. “Wally” Richter, former law-related education director for the state bar, the award recognizes Missouri teachers, administrators, and schools for their citizenship education efforts.
Dr. Anthony Simones, director of citizenship education at the state bar, said Baumgartner “embodies excellence in teaching,” adding she teaches students how to analyze and think for themselves, creating the “next generation of leaders.”
"She doesn’t just present information; she finds ways to help students to see the real-world application of that information,” Simones said. “She doesn’t just ask students to memorize facts; she challenges them to think creatively and critically about the material. She doesn’t just have students take exams; she puts them in the position of being advocates arguing a case."
One project Baumgartner looks forward to is her law classes’ mock trials. The class will work with an “attorney coach” weekly to prepare for the mock trial. On the day of the trial, a local judge lets the class use his courtroom, and students work with lawyers to prepare their arguments. That afternoon, the judge will preside over a mock trial and listen to the students lay out their arguments while the lawyers sit in the audience.
“It's so much more than just sitting in a classroom and reading out of a textbook or having a teacher speak to you and you memorize it and spit it back out,” Baumgartner said.
While Baumgartner was unable to hold this mock trial in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said she is eager to restart it.
Along with the mock trial, Baumgartner encourages students to participate in The Missouri Bar’s Show-Me the Constitution, a mock-Congressional hearing competition where students give presentations and answer questions about Constitutional issues surrounding current events. The students learn about the Constitution as well as develop skills like public speaking, fact-checking, and respectfully disagreeing with others.
“It’s a different way of teaching so it’s a different way of learning for the kids, and everyone benefits,” Baumgartner said.
That different way of teaching does not stop there. Baumgartner routinely invites guests to her classes to chat with students. In her criminal justice class, she invites the school resource officer, a county sheriff, a 9-1-1 dispatcher, the FBI, and the CIA, among others, to chat with her students. In her law class, students routinely chat with local judges and lawyers.
Not only do students meet different individuals, but they also have a chance to think about their future, Baumgartner said. In one example, a 9-1-1 operator ran students through an activity that required strong multi-tasking skills. While some students struggled with the activity, others picked up on the task quickly, revealing a possible career opportunity.
“I think they need opportunities to talk to people who are actually out in the field,” Baumgartner said. “They could learn so much more from them than they could from me."
Along with providing student-interactive resources, Baumgartner is a regular at The Missouri Bar Citizenship Education Department’s events, including Summer Institute and Street Law workshops. These experiences helped build her confidence when teaching, she said.
With all the citizenship education opportunities Baumgartner has integrated into her classes, it comes as no surprise – except to Baumgartner herself – that she won the 2020 E.A. Richter Award. She credited The Missouri Bar for the resources it provides to teachers, from classroom assignments to educational competitions to connections with other teachers and civics-related professionals.
“I really feel like without all of the opportunities and all of the education I've been provided through the bar, I don't think I would still be in teaching,” she said. “The procedures and the practices and strategies that they use, they just make it so meaningful.”