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An opportunity to bring the knowledge and understanding awaits law students who would like to teach high-school aged children about the law. This opportunity is not a traditional law school course and allows for creativity from the street law students and the instructor. As an instructor you are paired with a local high school or juvenile facility within your county (at least for UH Law Center). You are not paired alone, there will be a teacher or classroom monitor you are paired with as well to aid with the teaching process.
The first time I worked for street law was at KIPP Northeast in fall 2019. At this institution I started with teaching High School students. The first day I might have been a little nervous due to being in law school and had the responsibility of teaching high school students about the law. I was in my 2nd year of law as a part-time student and knew just enough to supposedly make me “a little dangerous.” On that day I decided to establish rules with the classroom, but I thought we would bring in an introduction to how a democracy ideally works. This was a good moment for the students to participate in a voting process. The outcomes were decently accepted, and I figured the class as whole will work well together that year and that they did. At the end of that first day, I asked the students what they would like to learn and get out of the class, most of the students replied with “we want to learn loopholes.” While that made me smile, I knew this was going to be a great group of students. Throughout that first semester we touched on many topics, such as criminal law, family law, contracts, constitutional law, and many other legal topics that were current events.
The next semester, spring 2020, was the fun part as it was time to prepare for a mock trial competition. During the mock trial competition all the high schools and juvenile facilities that have street law instructors for UHLC have our students compete against one another. The mock trial itself can either be a civil or a criminal case and the students are assigned roles from the mock trial packet. Usually there is three to five lawyer roles for each side of the case and two to three witnesses for each side of the case as well. As a law student who never participated in a mock trial at that time, teaching this aspect was something new to me. Yet, I took on this responsibility and did the best to represent the school and the students as they showed plenty of talent. Getting the students to write and prepare for the mock trial was a challenge at first. The rigor and skill it took to read through the mock trial packet was bumpy at first. Once the students were able to understand what the case is about then the part of assigning students to roles was next. After assigning the student roles the class learned and drafted opening statements, directs, cross’s, and closing arguments and it was not as easy as it sounds. Yet, with plenty of support and visual aids the students were able to script out their entire mock trial and now they were just getting ready to perform. When the mock trial competition was two weeks away, I took the students to UHLC to view a hearing held by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. This extremely motivated the students to want to do the mock trial as they saw how it would be when their opportunity arises to advocate for their mock case. A week before the mock trial rounds were going to start the students were on spring break and that is when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the country and the mock trial competition was canceled.
I did get another opportunity to teach that upcoming summer 2020 at a juvenile facility in Harris County. During this session I got to have a co-instructor who provided sound information to the students and gave an exciting aspect to the course. This time was quite fun and unique, during that summer the class was 100% virtual. Coming up with lesson plans and connecting with the students was a challenge that is easily overcome by practicing different strategies and figuring out what worked best. A huge benefit of doing the program that summer was every class period afterwards I would meet with the other fellow street law instructors who were teaching at the facility as well. We all discussed what has worked well for the virtual classroom setting and some things that can be done better. Ultimately the students were really engaged with visual aids, videos, and having discussions about the substance of law that was taught and how it may be applied to their lives. The students were able to display true advocacy for certain laws they like or believe should change. The experience gave me an opportunity to carry over everything I learned from the previous semester into the summer and I truly enjoyed the time I spent with the students.
The upcoming fall semester 2020 I got another opportunity to teach at a juvenile facility, but at a different location. The students in this facility came and went often and I never had the same group of students for longer than a month. This did not phase me as it gave me an opportunity to teach the new students the importance of learning the law at their age and the importance of advocating for oneself. This class was still 100% virtual, but there were a couple occasions where I was allowed to go in person. The students appreciated my presence in person and was able to spend some time asking about a higher education and law school. This was also the first semester that I taught with another street law instructor. The co-instructor for the class brought a different perspective than I did, and the students enjoyed both sides. We were able to partner together on the lesson plans and how we wanted to carry out the mock trial competition at the end of the semester. Due to having an always changing group of students, there were plenty of challenges. Yet, there were some rock star students who were able to carry on a bigger task load when it came to the competition date. The students did exceptionally well during the mock trial competition and showed great signs of being a future advocate for themselves.
The following semester, spring 2021, I got an opportunity to teach at a different juvenile facility than the first two. I was extremely excited for this opportunity as I have heard great things about the students here and their ability to grasp legal understanding of a mock trial at a high rate. Once I started with the students, I saw what I had been told right away. The students were extremely brilliant and had an inquisitive mindset towards street law. I think the difference between this school and the other is with the first two institutions I had to introduce the students to what is street law versus this time around the students already had a sound understanding of what the program was. The students were so prepared for the class I had to consistently come up with a different ways of teaching every class. The class was still 100% virtual and I did not get an opportunity to meet the students in person. Yet, the students enjoyed virtual games like crossword puzzles, jeopardy, and trivia games. At this point I was comfortable creating games using the law. I also became comfortable having students lead discussions and having other involved to either support or oppose the information that was being discussed by the student. The students enjoyed visual aids for learning such as videos and music just like the prior classes as well. Being a street law instructor was now becoming a second nature and I truly enjoy it. The students in this program also got the opportunity to participate in a mock trial competition at the end of their semester. The students performed exceptionally well in preparing for the mock trial. On the day of the mock trial the students had an incredible performance and showed a sound understanding of the law. This time around the competition was held virtually on zoom. The way the students performed was extremely well and I am proud of their performance.
I am glad to have had this opportunity at UHLC and look forward to how the street law program will grow in the future. I am glad to have met Professor Marrus, who introduced me to street law. Additionally, every single person that acquainted me in my role as a street law instructor, I thank you!