Tappan School’s Wendy Raymond: Taking the law into her own class

By Casey Hans
AAPSNews Service

Wendy Raymond might have pursued a legal career, but chose teaching instead. As someone who loves each profession, she has been fortunate to enjoy aspects of both.

Wendy Raymond, Tappan Middle School
Wendy Frey Raymond, Language Arts teacher at Tappan Middle School

It all began years ago, when her dad took Raymond and as many friends as would fit into a car for summer outings.  Her dad, long time Ann Arbor teacher Will Frey, left his mark with these special times.  “In the summer he would often take us out to a lake, or take us to the courthouse to watch trials,” she said. “I still remember the bicycle thief who ran out (of court) during lunch.”

“We would go home afterwards and play court, and I enjoyed that,” she added. She also played “school,” pretending to be the teacher.

Raymond ultimately followed her dad, a former Slauson and Pioneer math teacher, into teaching. She is in her 33rd year teaching with the Ann Arbor Public Schools, first at Bryant Elementary and then at the Tappan building (first as a junior high and then as a middle school teacher.)

Her mother’s civil rights activities in the 1960s also helped to shape Raymond’s interest in law. Jeane Frey sometimes conducted meetings with local civil rights activists in her home. This increased her children’s awareness of human rights issues, and inspired a deep appreciation for the rule of law.

Other inspiration came from Cynthia Spring, her fourth-grade teacher at Eberwhite Elementary. “She really saw us. She read to us a lot from books like ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and ‘Charlotte’s Web,’” Raymond said. “She helped us create original skits and musical productions, and just made school really fun.”

Raymond said she chose teaching because she could always be at the beginning of new things with each new class of students. “The kids are at the beginning of the next generation. There’s something very exciting about being a part of that,” she added.

Although her chosen path was education, Raymond was able to incorporate her love of law into the classroom. “I think it’s relevant,” she said. “When you find something relevant to the kids … it becomes real. It’s a way to connect to the real world.”

Inspiration from Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, set her on a course toward using the story for student mock trials. Students learn critical thinking skills as they prepare for trial and persuasive speaking skills as they testify and question. The process also gives students self-confidence and offers insight into human nature – something that Raymond said will serve students well into adulthood.

The learning does not benefit only students.  “I get as much out of it as they do,” she added. A related project that her students spearheaded in 2009 was the Tappan Law Club, an after-school club for all grades that meets after school each week during first semester. Guest speakers continue the learning of law; visitors have included lawyers, detectives, a police canine unit and a retired FBI agent.

Raymond has teamed up with a number of area attorneys over the years, first as part of a Washtenaw County Bar Association partnership with the Ann Arbor Public Schools. She took basic courthouse visits and expanded them to include a fall information talk by a local attorney, a spring mock trial for students and participation in a state bar essay contest.

One of those attorneys is Anthony Patti, with the law firm of Hooper Hathaway, who worked with Raymond in her early years of teaching and helped her to set up the structure for how she teaches about the law today. “The Washtenaw County Bar discontinued the partnership, but Anthony and I just kept on going,” Raymond said.

Patti has fond memories of the years he worked with Raymond and her students. He recalled working on mock trials and the many courthouse visits where they would take over a courtroom as a teaching classroom, meet with judges and observe live courtroom sessions.

“She’s just such a dynamic teacher,” he said of Raymond. “She has repeatedly taken her students to the highest levels of the essay contests. She really engages her students. The way she approached it made it so much more worthwhile.”

‘Generally, I think she represents all that is great about the education of middle school kids. She’s got great energy. She gets them excited and motivates them.’

– David Baum, U-M Law School assistant dean

Patti continues to nominate Raymond for local bar association awards, which he said she richly deserves. In 2000, Raymond was awarded the Crystal Apple Award for Teacher of the Year from the State Bar of Michigan Lawyer’s Auxiliary and has had 18 students win awards in the group’s Law Day Essay Contest since 2002. Last year, she earned national recognition: the Law Related Education Middle School Teacher of the Year Award from the American Lawyers’ Auxiliary of the American Bar Association and was honored at a ceremony in San Francisco.

Patti said exposing students to the law at a young age can really have an impact on career choices. He was drawn to law after participating in two mock trials in the eighth grade – one playing a juror who persuaded others to change their verdict, and the other playing the role of lawyer. “I know there are a number of Wendy’s students who have chosen to go into law, too,” he added.

David Baum, assistant dean for student affairs at the University of Michigan Law School, met Raymond in 2004 when his son was a sixth-grader at Tappan. He offered to help with her law unit and found himself totally involved, which he said he continues to enjoy even though his sons are now older.

Baum said Raymond’s students are well-prepared and ask insightful and sophisticated questions when he visits the class each fall. He noted that the spring mock trials are well done, with middle school students completing a project that would be challenging for even new law students.

“Generally, I think she represents all that is great about the education of middle school kids,” he said. “She’s got great energy. She gets them excited and motivates them.”

He particularly likes how the law unit exposes students to the role of language in the legal system. And, even if they don’t have an interest in law as a career, the law unit instills a value about law and the Constitution, he said. “She gets the kids engaged in writing about this,” he added. “They get their minds around Constitutional issues. I think she’s masterfully conceived all of this brilliantly.”

Baum also shared a nominating letter he wrote about Raymond. In it, he pays her the ultimate compliment: “Wendy Raymond is one of those gems of the public school system who finds ways not only to teach children, but to get them downright excited about learning.”

Case closed.

Casey Hans writes and edits this newsletter for the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Reach her at   hansc@aaps.k12.mi.us or call 734-994-2090.


Wendy Frey Raymond

Occupation: Language Arts teacher at Tappan Middle School.
Residence: Scio Township. She is an Ann Arbor native, having attended Eberwhite Elementary, Slauson Jr. High School and Pioneer High School.
Education: A degree in Elementary Education with an emphasis on Language Arts from Justin Morrill College at Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in Reading from Eastern Michigan University.
Family: Married to Steve Raymond, an administrator with the University of Michigan Health System. They have twins, Lisa and Peter, who attend the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, respectively, and Julia who is a senior at Community High School. Raymond also has an older brother and a younger sister.
Hobbies: Reading, gardening, traveling, and fly fishing.
Community service: In addition to her activities surrounding Law Day and the state and national bar associations, she has also assisted in fundraising events for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan.
Last books read: “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese (“The characters are unforgettable,” she says.) and “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell. (“A story with fascinating use of language in an extraordinary plot structure.”)
Life philosophy: “I’ve thought to myself ‘why are we here?’ I think there are two reasons: To love and to learn.”

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