Elayna Direnfeld, Tucson native and local Jewish educator, received a 2021 Excellence in Civics Education Award and a cash prize of $350 from the Arizona District Court. Ms. Direnfeld teaches advanced placement U.S. government and advanced placement world comparative government at Basis Oro Valley High School in Tucson and formerly taught Hebrew school education classes at Congregation Anshei Israel (CAI) during 2012-2013.
Ms. Direnfeld’s award was made in conjunction with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ annual civics contest. The annual competition is open to all high school students in the 9th circuit from public, private, parochial and charter schools and home-schooled students of equivalent grade status.
The theme of this year’s competition asked students to describe how we as a society should strike the appropriate balance between safeguarding our Constitutional rights and fulfilling our responsibilities to each other. In years past, the theme of the civics contest has concerned such topics and voting rights and search and seizure in the digital age.
The first phase of the civics competition is conducted by each of the 15 judicial districts within the Ninth Circuit. The winners in the essay and video competitions in each district are then advanced to the circuit for selection of the overall winners in each category and additional cash prizes. This year the Arizona District Court awarded cash prizes of $1000, $500, and $250 to each of the first, second and third place winners in the essay and video competitions. At the circuit level, the first, second, and third place winners received additional cash prizes of $2,000, $1,000 and $500 respectively.
The District of Arizona also annually honors four civics teachers for excellence in civics education. The teachers are selected based on nominations received from students or faculty. This year, Ms. Direnfeld was selected for the award based both on the quality and quantity of the nominations received by the selection committee. Ms. Direnfeld received a total of 12 nominations including by one of her colleagues at the high school. Many of Ms. Direnfeld students participated in this year’s competition and one was selected in second place in the district-wide essay competition. Four students of Ms. Direnfeld’s students received honorable mentions in the essay competition, and another student received an honorable mention in the video competition.
Ms. Direnfeld’s nominations included the following statement by one of her colleagues, “I am always amazed, every time I walk past her classroom, at the enthusiasm she brings to every lesson, and the excitement she generates in her students.” One of her students commented in nominating Ms. Direnfeld, “Not only was she passionate about delivering a superior civics education to her students, but she also instilled a great pride in all of her students to be part of our democracy.” Another student’s nomination included the following accolade, “Some teachers you can tell took the job because they needed one, and some you can tell love children and the spread of knowledge. Ms. Direnfeld is the latter.”
Ms. Direnfeld grew up and was educated in Tucson. She attended Jewish education classes at Congregation Anshei Israel from kindergarten through her graduation from Hebrew High School. Ms. Direnfeld attained her Bat Mitzvah from CAI. She attended Camp Ramah and as youngster; traveled to eastern Europe and Israel with USY as a teenager; and later supervised younger USY members who participated in Kadima activities at CAI. Ms. Direnfeld attended Ventana Vista elementary school and Esperero Canyon middle school before graduating from Foothills High School in 2007. Following her high school graduation, Ms. Direnfeld attended the University of Arizona where she obtained her bachelor’s degree with a double major in communications and political science. After graduating from college in 2011, Ms. Direnfeld “took a gap year” and taught classes at Congregation Anshei Israel. It was a result of this teaching opportunity and the positive interactions she had with her Jewish students that Ms. Direnfeld decided to focus her career on education.
In 2013, Ms. Direnfeld enrolled in the education department at the University of Arizona and completed a program that allowed her to obtain both her teaching certificate and a master’s degree in education. Immediately thereafter, Ms. Direnfeld began her employment at Basis Oro Valley where she continues teaching today. Congratulations to Ms. Direnfeld and all the students at Basis Oro Valley.
Scott H. Gan is a former practicing attorney who has been a member of Congregation Anshei Israel since 1986. In September 2014, he began serving as a United States Bankruptcy Judge in Tucson. He is a member of the Arizona District Court selection committee for the annual Ninth Circuit Civics Contest.