Alito declines invitation to ELL graduation; But praises Constitution study club and EHS students

Ann Knef Dec. 2, 2010, 7:17am


Students of EHS's ELL club conduct a mock trial. Acting as "judge" is EHS English teacher Cara Lane. The student seated to the left of Lane and acting as bailiff is Josiah Accola. At counsel's table is "defendant" Henry Rybolt, and his "attorney," standing, Kayla Silvey.

It's not every day that one of the most powerful and influential persons in the world praises your work.

But it was a good day for Edwardsville attorney Tad Armstrong, founder of the Earn It, Learn It or Lose It (ELL) Constitution Clubs, when he received a letter from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

Alito had to decline an invitation to attend an ELL graduation ceremony at Edwardsville High School in the spring, citing his workload in Washington.

"I am greatly impressed, however, with the program that you helped set-up for the high school students," Alito wrote on Nov. 18.

When this school year is completed, approximately 300 Supreme Court opinions will have been studied by the ELL Constitution Club at EHS -- under the direction of English teacher (and lawyer) Carol Wilkerson - since it began in the fall of 2007. On average, 30 students have participated each year since it began.

"Reading that many Supreme Court opinions over the past four years must have tested their resolve, yet the program and the work they put into it surely provided them with a unique civics education that they wouldn't get otherwise," Alito wrote.

"In return, our country is gaining a large group of well-educated voters and productive citizens."

Armstrong rolled out the study club under a different name – First Tuesdays – in February 2005. Today, several ELL clubs meet regularly at locations throughout the Metro-East.

"I was impressed with such humility coming from one of the six most powerful men in the world," Armstrong said of Alito's letter. "And, of course, that my letter to Justice Alito even got to his desk is overwhelming. It must mean we are making a difference and I was so very pleased with the kind comments about the kids at EHS."

Armstrong praised Wilkerson and the students for their hard work.

"The intense study these students undertake is no small task," he said.

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