Street Law Overview
In 1998, MJF staff, law school professors, professionals from the legal services community, and area high schools and alternative learning centers began to develop Street Law, a program in which law students receive training in teaching methods and resources for presenting a variety of substantive areas of law to high school students. These trained law students are then placed in classrooms where they help at-risk youth understand their legal rights and obligations as well as the basic rights and responsibilities of citizenship in a democratic society. Street Law volunteers work to provide a positive role model for the young people they teach and encourage their students to become active participants in their community.
The original “Street Law” program, launched at Georgetown University in 1972, was founded to provide a greater understanding of the law to those outside the legal profession and to promote the use of interactive educational methods to develop academic, critical thinking, and civic skills. For many years, Jennifer Bloom at the Minnesota Center for Community Legal Education taught a Street Law program at Hamline University School of Law. In January of 1998, she and Sharon Fischlowitz of the Minnesota Justice Foundation, Keith Ellison of the Legal Rights Center, Carol Batsell Benner of the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office, Peter Knapp of William Mitchell College of Law, and Sam Magavern of the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis began to develop a new Minnesota Street Law project.
Law students who participate in the Street Law program receive at least 14 hours of intensive training during sessions offered during the winter break. Local legal aid and private attorneys provide lectures and resources concerning substantive areas of law including Constitutional, Consumer, Criminal, Education, Employment, Family, Housing and Juvenile Law. Community legal education professionals and teachers from participating schools provide training in effective teaching methods and advice for working with at-risk youth.
Law student volunteers teach fundamental legal rights, responsibilities and resources to low-income, at-risk juveniles at various sites throughout Minnesota. During the academic year, many volunteers serve at local alternative learning centers, charter schools, or other educational or after-school programs. School terms last anywhere from four to twelve weeks. Some volunteers spend their spring break teaching in other Minnesota communities such as Duluth or Winona. Law students spend at least ten hours each term with the students they teach.
Volunteers work with the classroom teacher to find out what issues are most relevant to the students in his or her class. Together they develop a syllabus for the term that addresses those issues using methods that will engage each student in the classroom. Street Law volunteers are trained to teach using a variety of methods and are provided with a broad range of resources. MJF staff members and volunteer attorneys from local legal services providers are available to help volunteers answer difficult questions or to assist them in developing curriculum, creating educational materials, and obtaining relevant speakers.
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