Sotomayor Visits Elementary School Students

Sonia Sotomayor/Courtesy

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Fourth- and fifth-graders at Rosa Parks Elementary School got to meet and shake hands with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Wednesday morning when the judge dropped in for a surprise visit during her day in Berkeley.

Students performed a play about Rosa Parks for Sotomayor - who later that evening acted as judge for a student competition at Zellerbach Hall hosted by the UC Berkeley School of Law - and asked the justice questions ranging from "What is it like being on the Supreme Court?" to "How much do you get paid?"

"Her presence was just extraordinary," said Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan. "A group of parents also got to meet her ... They looked like an audience for Jay Leno, all eagerly reaching out at the same time just to get a handshake."

Sotomayor chose to stop by the school because two children of the law school's dean, Christopher Edley, attend the elementary school. Additionally, Sotomayor - the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice - was specifically interested in the school's Two-Way Immersion program, a language acquisition program that aims to teach various school subjects in both English and Spanish to a classroom of students who each speak only one of the languages.

According to Rosa Parks' principal Paco Furlan, Sotomayor then visited an immersion class of about 20 students and taught a lesson entirely in Spanish.

"She was so personable," Furlan said. "The best part was how well she interacted with the kids and made a point to meet each of them. I'm glad they got to meet such a great representative of our country."

According to Coplan, in addition to the two classrooms she visited, more than 100 Rosa Parks students probably saw the judge as Sotomayor "poked her head into other classrooms" to say a quick hello.

He said the fourth- and fifth-grade teachers had been informed a few weeks in advance that the justice would be visiting, so the class had spent time studying Sotomayor and her career. The students were told the morning Sotomayor arrived at an assembly that the woman they had been studying would be visiting the school.

Sotomayor is not the first notable political figure to pay a visit to Berkeley schools. According to Coplan, President Barack Obama's Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Longfellow Middle School last year to learn more about the school's algebra program, and Prince Charles toured gardens and learned about the school lunch programs at Martin Luther King Middle School in 2005.

"She is someone whom I've read about and seen on the news, someone I deeply respect," Furlan said. "I am so happy the teachers and the students and the parents met her. It's a big honor for Rosa Parks."


Jeffrey Butterfield is the lead local schools reporter. Contact him at [email protected]

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