National Recognition

School of Law's Margaret Fisher receives Sandra Day O'Connor Award for advancing civics education

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Story by: Katherine Hedland Hansen
Published: 2013-02-11

Margaret Fisher, a distinguished practitioner in residence at the law school and court program analyst with the Washington State Administrative Office of the Court, is the 2012-2013 recipient of the Sandra Day O'Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). The award honors an organization, court, or individual who has promoted, inspired, improved, or led an innovation or accomplishment in the field of civics education related to the justice system.

"The shear breadth of Margaret Fisher's work in the field of civics education, which spans more than 35 years, is so worthy of recognition," said NCSC President Mary McQueen. "Through her steadfast commitment, Margaret has made a difference to so many. She has developed innovative programs for school children, college students, juvenile offenders, prison inmates, immigrants and more. Margaret's perspective is that everyone, including society, benefits from a strong civics education program, which she delivers."

Throughout her career as an attorney and educator, Fisher has brought civics education to thousands of students and raised the bar on how it is taught. She began her career at Georgetown University Law Center, where she conducted the Street Law Program in which law students teach civics education programs in prisons. After moving to Washington State in 1982, Fisher launched the Street Law program at Seattle University School of Law. This program continues today. More than 25,000 high school students in Washington State have benefited from this semester-long program. Last year she coordinated the city's first Youth Traffic Court, a collaboration between the law school, the city of Seattle and Garfield High School.

In 2003, Fisher established a new version of Street Law, in which judges commit to teach civics once a week in a high school. She also developed lesson plans for Washington State Courts' flagship civics education program, Judges in the Classroom, where K-12 teachers request judges for classroom visits. In 2009, she became the Washington State coordinator for iCvicis, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's web-based program. In addition, Fisher, a Senior Fullbright Scholar, introduced Street Law to Southern Africa.

Her accomplishments and contributions are far-reaching. "I have seen Ms. Fisher work tirelessly to strengthen judicial participation in civics education," wrote Washington State Chief Justice Barbara Madsen in a letter of recommendation. "She actively conducts civics education programs with youth, and she has created one of the most innovative programs involving judges in the education of youth in civics and judges in partnership with teachers to teach Street Law course in high schools."

Fisher also served as an advisor to the NCSC during the development of its Justice Case Files graphic novel series, which teaches civics education to elementary, middle and high school children.

This is the third year the O'Connor Award has been presented. The first recipient was South Carolina Chief Justice Jean H. Toal and last year's winner was the Louisiana Center for Law and Civic Education. The award is named for retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in honor of her commitment to improving civics education. Since retiring from the bench in 2006, Justice O'Connor has become a tireless advocate of civics education, working to increase awareness and understanding of how our government works. She also established iCivics, a program that uses Web-based educational tools to teach civics education and to inspire students to be active participants in society.  Justice O'Connor personally approves the selection of each recipient.


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