Local Catholic school students get unique window into Supreme Court hearings

Carol Nesbitt

It’s not often that students have the opportunity to talk to someone making history on a national scale, but 8th grade students at Notre Dame Catholic School recently got to visit via Zoom with a woman who was part of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for the newly-appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett.  

Appellate attorney Laura Wolk, who is a good friend of Notre Dame 8th grade teacher Abbie Carter, spent an hour visiting with the students about everything from her work as an attorney and clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to her opportunity to testify during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings on behalf of Justice Barrett. She also addressed many questions from the students about the challenges she has faced as both a blind woman and as the very first blind person to serve as a clerk for the Supreme Court.   

Wolk was a student and mentee of Justice Barrett’s when she attended law school at the University of Notre Dame. She told the Notre Dame students how Justice Barrett helped her get the assistive technology she needed to compete on a level playing field with her sighted peers.  

Eighth grader Vy asked Wolk who had inspired her the most of anyone she’s met. Wolk shared that it would have to be Justice Thomas. He grew up very poor and during a time when segregation was still happening, and had every reason to feel like he didn’t belong, but he instead remained joyful and faith-filled; he never let negative things get in the way of his success and instead chose to be happy and positive.  

Wolk told the students how Justice Thomas believed that life can be amazing “when you allow joy and happiness to dominate your life” and that’s what she tries to do as well.  

Abbie Carter’s 8th grade class at Notre Dame Catholic School recently had the chance to have a virtual visit with Laura Wolk, an appellate attorney who testified on behalf of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett at her confirmation hearings. (Photos by Carol Nesbitt)

Student Nicholas asked Wolk what it felt like knowing she made a difference in history by participating in the nomination hearings. Wolk shared with the students how incredibly humbling it was for her, and how she’s received many messages from young people with disabilities or their parents about how she’s inspiring them. She says she didn’t have many role models with disabilities when she was growing up.  

Oliver asked Wolk what biggest attribute it takes to be successful. “It can be tempting to give up when things are tough,” said Wolk. She urged them to keep trying and to also remember that kindness is really essential.  

When Aliyah asked Wolk what advice she’d give to them as 8th graders, Wolk encouraged them to read lots of different kinds of books that introduce them to different kinds of experiences in the world and will be beneficial for their brains and vocabularies as well. 

After the call was over, Carter said she was thrilled to be able to offer her students this incredible opportunity to meet her dear friend. “I’m just so excited that the world has gotten to meet her,” she said.  

Student Oliver Valdez thought it was pretty cool to be able to have a conversation with her.  

“I think it’s special to meet someone so influential in history. She made history so that’s a cool thing to see,” he said. Oliver was amazed by Wolk and talked about how her disability has not brought her down but only made her stronger.  

Laura Wolk testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of Justice Barrett.

The biggest thing that stood out to student Cate Busche was when Wolk talked about people with disabilities, and how they often feel like that have to try harder than others – almost be the “best of the best” to be able to compete in a sighted world.  

“I’m glad she could represent others who are blind,” Busche said.   

Mrs. Carter says her students have been learning about the Supreme Court and the role of a Supreme Court justice, and how having her friend participate in the nomination process was such an incredible and wonderful coincidence.  

“It just all came together with what they’re learning in class with current events and was a ‘perfect storm of opportunities’ for them to be able to speak with her,” Carter said.  

The students watched Wolk give her testimony in front of the committee, which helped them form the questions they each asked her during the Zoom.  That testimony helped put fellow Catholic Amy Coney Barrett on the highest court in the nation – the United States Supreme Court. It was a wonderful opportunity for the Notre Dame students and their proud teacher to be witnessing history and talking to the woman who helped make it happen. 

Getting a little emotional, Carter said of her students and of her friend, “I am so incredibly proud of her, and I am so incredibly proud of them as a class. I hope that Laura has inspired them to never give up on their dreams of what they hope to achieve one day.”  

COMING UP: Preparing your Home and Heart for the Advent Season

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The Advent season is a time of preparation for our hearts and minds for the Lord’s birth on Christmas.  It extends over the four Sundays before Christmas.  Try some of these Ideas to celebrate Advent in your home by decorating, cooking, singing, and reading your way to Christmas. Some of the best ideas are the simplest.

Special thanks to Patty Lunder for putting this together!

Advent Crafts

Handprint Advent Wreath for Children 
Bring the meaning of Advent into your home by having your kids make this fun and easy Advent wreath.

Pink and purple construction paper
– Yellow tissue or construction paper (to make a flame)
– One piece of red construction paper cut into 15 small circles
– Scissors
– Glue
– Two colors of green construction paper
– One paper plate
– 2 empty paper towel tubes

1. Take the two shades of green construction paper and cut out several of your child’s (Children’s) handprints. Glue the handprints to the rim of a paper plate with the center cut out.

2. Roll one of the paper towels tubes in purple construction paper and glue in place.

3. Take the second paper towel and roll half in pink construction paper and half in purple construction and glue in place.

4. Cut the covered paper towel tubes in half.

5. Cut 15 small circles from the red construction paper. Take three circles and glue two next to each other and a third below to make berries. Do this next to each candle until all circles are used.

6. Cut 4 rain drop shapes (to make a flame) from the yellow construction paper. Each week glue the yellow construction paper to the candle to make a flame. On the first week light the purple candle, the second week light the second purple candle, the third week light the pink candle and on the fourth week light the final purple candle.

A Meal to Share during the Advent Season

Slow-Cooker Barley & Bean Soup 

Make Sunday dinner during Advent into a special family gathering with a simple, easy dinner. Growing up in a large family, we knew everyone would be together for a family dinner after Mass on Sunday. Let the smells and aromas of a slow stress-free dinner fill your house and heart during the Advent Season. Choose a member of the family to lead grace and enjoy an evening together. This is the perfect setting to light the candles on your Advent wreath and invite all to join in a special prayer for that week.

– 1 cup dried multi-bean mix or Great Northern beans, picked over and rinsed
– 1/2 cup pearl barley (Instant works great, I cook separate and add at end when soup is done)
– 3 cloves garlic, smashed
– 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
– 2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
– 1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
– 1 bay leaf
– Salt to taste
– 2 teaspoons dried Italian herb blend (basil, oregano)
– Freshly ground black pepper
– One 14-ounce can whole tomatoes, with juice
– 3 cups cleaned baby spinach leaves (about 3 ounces)
– 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, extra for garnish

1. Put 6 cups water, the beans, barley, garlic, carrots, celery, onions, bay leaf, 1 tablespoons salt, herb blend, some pepper in a slow cooker. Squeeze the tomatoes through your hands over the pot to break them down and add their juices. Cover and cook on high until the beans are quite tender and the soup is thick, about 8 hours. 

2. Add the spinach and cheese, and stir until the spinach wilts, about 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. 

3. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and serve with a baguette.