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In Federal Courthouses and Post Offices: Symbols of Pride and Permanence in American Communities, students have examined federal services in three American cities and the role of the General Services Administration in constructing and maintaining the buildings that house those services.  The following activities will help students better understand the operation of the U.S. court system and also consider what different building functions tell us about how a community’s needs change over the course of its history and how government adapts to those changes.

Activity 1: The Federal Judicial System
Ask students to conduct research and then make a chart describing the different branches of the U.S. court system (U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. District Courts, and U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals). The chart should explain briefly when and how each type of court was created, the types of cases heard by each court, where they operate, the number of judges for each, and the procedure for selecting judges. Next, ask students to gather information about their state’s court system and compare the federal and state judicial systems in terms of types of cases heard, how judges are selected, etc. Conclude the activity by discussing as a class why it is important to have federal courthouses throughout the country. The following websites provide useful information: Understanding Federal and State Courts and Federal Judicial Center.

Activity 2: The National Register of Historic Places
Ask students to visit the National Register of Historic Places website and then describe in their own words the process by which a building is nominated and listed. Next, tell students to read the online National Register nomination for the Pioneer Courthouse, the Byron R. White U.S. Courthouse, or the Gene Snyder U.S. Courthouse and Custom House. Students should then answer the following questions: What are the basic components of the nomination? Why do you think the nomination includes details on the building’s physical appearance as well as its history? Which criteria for listing did the building meet?  Which area(s) of significance?  Based on the nomination, do you agree that this building is eligible for listing in the NRHP? Explain your answer.

Next, students should research how historic buildings are recognized at the state and/or local level and discuss how the designation process differs from that of the National Register. Finally, the class as a whole can debate the value of documenting and officially recognizing historic resources.

Activity 3: What If . . .
Divide students into small groups and ask each group to find and conduct research on a federal, state, or county building (a courthouse, post office, general government building) in their area. At least one of the groups should first consult GSA’s Historic Buildings Database to find out if there is a GSA building in their community. Direct each group to prepare a visual presentation such as a poster or exhibit that describes the building itself, its use over time, and how the building functions in the community. If possible, have the groups include photographs of the community at the time the government building was erected. Students should then try to assess the impact of the building on the community at the time and compare that to how the building fits into the physical fabric of the community today. If the building is historic, students should determine if it has earned any designations at the local, state, or national level.  After each group has made its presentation, conclude the activity by discussing how the activities housed in these various buildings impact life in their community. Arrange to have the posters or exhibits displayed at the local library or historical society.

 

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National Park Service arrowhead with link to NPS website.