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Davis, California

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Yolo County Judge creates public speaking program for elementary school students

Judge Peter Williams hopes that public speaking program helps and inspires kids in Yolo County


By SOFIA BIREN — city@theaggie.org


Judge Peter Williams was appointed as a judge for the Yolo County Superior Court by former governor Jerry Brown in 2018. Before that, he spent the majority of his law career working in the California Department of Justice. In 2019, Williams decided to create a program to expose children to public speaking, a skill he believes is integral for any profession.

In the winter of 2019, Williams began to contact school boards, superintendents and the former mayor of West Sacramento. He was eventually able to get three schools on board, according to Williams. He said that he originally contacted the Davis schools, but they already had their fair share of after school programs. This debate program, according to Williams, is designed to supplement gaps in school programming — not replace it. At this point, his program began to be adopted by schools in Woodland and West Sacramento.

Once Williams gauged interest for this program and had schools on board, he began to design a curriculum. The purpose of creating a curriculum was to align the program with a succinct and effective timeline, but more importantly make the program easy for the teachers who agreed to participate, according to Williams. 

“It really requires somebody who has true dedication to the job that will say ‘Hey, I’ll take a lunchtime once a week, or maybe a little more to give my kids this opportunity,’” Williams said. “I would tell them [the teachers] in turn, ‘Here’s what I’m going to do, I will prepare a curriculum.’” 

The curriculum that Williams created was a three-month program that provided a lesson or activity for the kids every two weeks. 

However, by the time Williams had created a curriculum and confirmed a number of attorneys interested in volunteering for the program, the pandemic disrupted his plans. 

“Once COVID hit, everything shut down,” Williams said. “It kind of looked like it was going to start up again, and then everything shut down again. I was kind of disheartened. But then this last go-around I said ‘I’m going to try this one more time.’ So this last time it was really hard to get the teachers back on board, except for Ms. Johnson, a teacher at Plainview Elementary School […] She was really enthusiastic and her kids were really well prepared.” 

This year, he had only one class participate in his program, with many more classes agreeing to participate next year. Despite that, Williams was happy with the progress he saw in the kids this time around. He sent a list of possible topics for the debate to Johnson, but changed course when the students decided they wanted to have a debate on a topic of their choosing: whether or not children should have more screen time. 

Williams was excited that the students were enthusiastic enough about the program to choose their own topic. At the end of the three month curriculum, Williams invited them to the courtroom, where he presided over the debate wearing his judge’s robe. 

When asked if he thinks this program helped the students, or would have helped him in the past, he said, “I think this program would help anyone.” 

Lucy Soriano, who has been teaching for 31 years for LAUSD, says that public speaking is an invaluable skill. 

“Public speaking at a young age will increase their confidence and prepare them for any aspects in their future,” Soriano said. “Because once they get to high school, college or any job they will eventually have to speak in public. In elementary school they struggle with speaking in front of an audience, be it their peers or adults. But, the more practice they get, the more it will improve their communication skills and ability to persuade.”

Carla Piedrahita, a teacher for LAUSD who has been teaching for more than two decades, says that it is crucial to introduce public speaking in the classroom at a young age but in the right environment. 

“Implementing public speaking in the classroom in elementary school is incredibly important because the insecurities they have when speaking will only increase without practice,” Piedrahita said. “It is incredibly important to not only practice speaking in front of their peers, but to create an environment in which they are comfortable doing so. Once they are comfortable they can make mistakes and grow without the fear of being judged.”

Williams said that although the program has not been around long enough for him to see any long term improvement, he is confident that his program is making a difference. He hopes it inspires the students who have the opportunity to experience the program to participate in speech and debate in middle school and high school. 

“The biggest gift I can give them is public speaking,” Williams said. “I wish I had it growing up, and I’m confident that if those kids were able to debate in the courtroom, then they can speak anywhere.”


Written by: Sofia Biren — city@theaggie.org



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