Innovative after-school program gives students real-life experience “practicing” law FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Boston, MA— October 26, 2015— It’s almost impossible to turn on the television today without seeing a courtroom drama. For most students, these shows are all they know about the law. Middle schoolers from Chelsea’s Joseph Browne School are getting a unique chance to learn the ins and outs of practicing law as part of an apprenticeship offered by Citizen Schools and Discovering Justice.
When the closing bell rings, these middle schoolers board yellow school buses for a trip to the international law firm WilmerHale in the heart of downtown Boston. Here, about 20 attorneys are waiting to get to work. The lawyers are paired with students to teach them about legal advocacy and critical reading, writing and thinking skills needed to be an attorney. The students actually argue a case as if they’re in a real-life trial or appeal.
Started 20 years ago, Citizen Schools is a national education nonprofit which partners with public middle schools to expand the learning day by three hours, providing targeted academic support, homework help, and hands-on learning opportunities. Based in Boston, Citizen Schools operates in Massachusetts and six other states utilizing “Citizen Teachers,” like those at WilmerHale, who give their time provide skills-based learning.
Attorney Jared Cohen recently received the Presidential Volunteer Service Award for his work with this apprenticeship and says working with the students is a reward in itself. “Watching them get involved in a case and get excited, and most of all, watching them get confident speaking and answering tough questions about a case is fantastic. Some of them are uncomfortable and unwilling at the beginning, but they get confidence and are able to do it. Watching that is a lot of fun.”
Citizen Schools has demonstrated the value of providing Expanded Learning Time (ELT) as a means to help close the gap between students from higher and lower income communities. “We often hear about the critical gap in education, but it’s not an achievement gap, it’s an opportunity gap,” says Pat Kirby, Executive Director of Citizen Schools Massachusetts. “Our programs put opportunities right into the hands of these students…opportunities they might never otherwise have.”