Norwell lawyer teams with Citizen Schools

Man wins gold President’s Volunteer Service Award

Every week, Norwell resident Michael Bevilacqua goes to work at the law firm WilmerHale, and spends time teaching middle school students from around Boston how to present a case to a judge.

“At the beginning, they don’t want to stand up in front of the class,” he said. “It’s amazing to see what they gain by the end of it. The shyest of them has enough confidence to stand up in front of the judge.”

About 15 students from Boston schools come to the Boston-based law firm every week to learn about trials and appeals from lawyers like Bevilacqua through the organization Citizen Schools, which connects students from low-income schools with volunteers who offer them enriching after school opportunities.

Citizen Schools recognized Bevilacqua recently by honoring him and 66 other volunteers with a gold President’s Volunteer Service Award. The gold level means he volunteered for at least the past four consecutive semesters. Bevilacqua said he’s been working with Citizen Schools for about eight years.

Bevilacqua and his colleagues work one on one with students and teach them how to craft and plan their case, and at the end of the semester, the students argue their case in front of a real judge at a Boston court, he said.

Carolyn Navikonis, director of civic engagement for Citizen Schools Massachusetts region, said the organization tries to help address the achievement gap in students by offering enriching opportunities for students from low-income areas.

She said there is a clear gap between how well students from high-income and low-income areas perform on assessments.

“We think the key driver is the opportunity gap,” she said.

Trips to science museums, access to tutors and even vacations to other areas of the world all contribute to the success of students, she said. Citizen Schools tries to help give all students access to enriching experiences, she said.

The organization, which was founded in Boston in 1995, now works with 5,000 students nationally, with 1,500 from Massachusetts.

Navikonis said giving students the chance to see what a real law office looks like, and experience what lawyers actually do every day allows them to picture themselves in that career path.

“You have to see it, and then you can imagine yourself in that space,” she said.