A civic education nonprofit organization founded by former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor is releasing a Spanish-language version of its popular game that is used to teach students about their civil rights.
Spearheaded by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who joined the board of iCivics in 2015, the new release looks to help English-language learners — the vast majority speak Spanish at home — who often struggle with the academic vocabulary and concepts of civics and social sciences.
"There's a real need there to make that kind of learning . . . accessible to all learners," said Louise Dube, executive director of iCivics.
The fast-paced game called Do I Have a Right? — just one of 19 free games offered — casts students as pro bono lawyers, instructing them to assess the cases of clients to decide whether their constitutional rights were violated, and to do so quickly to score points and avoid cases piling up.
For students whose first language is not English, the challenges of learning the complex concepts of civics are complicated by the language being new to them as well, Dube said.
She said that she saw the need for a Spanish-language version during a visit to an English-language learners' class at a school in Bedford, N.Y. ICivics intends for the game to be an engaging entry into civil rights, but the students struggled to keep up with the English-language version as every prompt in the game needed to be hurriedly typed into a translation website on a phone before they could respond, Dube said.
"It's really breaking your heart, right?" she said. "You can't play a game of that pace in that way."
Language barriers are just one of the challenges Phoebe Sherman's students in the International Academy at D.C.'s Roosevelt High School face every day. But the most important step in introducing new material to English-language learners is finding a way they can relate it to their own lives, Sherman said.
The International Academy includes a range of recent immigrants and English-language learners, and Sherman's ninth- and 11th-grade classes — which she said study the same rigorous curriculum as other D.C. public schools — include French, Amharic and Vietnamese speakers in addition to Spanish speakers.
It can be difficult for her students, who haven't grown up in the United States, to connect with the U.S. history she's teaching, Sherman said.
With the iCivics game, it was different.
"It was able to place their rights, which are guaranteed to them by the Constitution, in a way that is important to them or any person," Sherman said. "They were able to see how it can affect the real world, and their real lives."
In addition to teaching language and curriculum goals, the game has taught students lessons that help them advocate for themselves, Sherman said. While many of her students must work, Sherman said she has seen students bring the lessons to extracurricular groups and think about how they might argue against a fine or a police officer entering their home.
Dube encouraged learning to be brought into the home, too, saying parents can play the games with their children.
The Spanish-language release, which was in development for about a year, has already received positive feedback during its trial period, Dube said. This includes Sherman's class and the classroom in Bedford, N.Y., which after testing the game sent Dube a video expressing in Spanish and English why learning about their rights mattered to them.
The Spanish-language version accompanies a newly updated edition of the English- language game.
Do I Have a Right? has been played about 9 million times since launching.
"We as an organization have had a tremendous amount of growth," Dube said. "This tactic has a great deal of momentum. People are looking for resources."