1 in 6 Gonzaga Law Students Volunteer To Teach Constitutional Law in Local High Schools
Today, students in U.S. History and U.S. Studies classes at Rogers and Lewis and Clark High Schools in Spokane will be hearing a different type of lesson from some unlikely teachers. 75 student volunteers from Gonzaga University School of Law will be teaching 18 classes of high school students about their constitutional rights as a part of the Street Law program.
A New Perspective on the Law
Through the Street Law program, students at Gonzaga Law teach seven classes, one each month during the school year, about constitutional law topics such as freedom of speech, search and seizure, and discrimination.
“We want to show them that the law can be a force for good, a protection of the rights that they have both in and out of school.” explains Caitlin McGrane, president of the Street Law Club at Gonzaga Law.
Bringing Textbook Topics To Life
“Perhaps the most difficult thing about working with high school students is engaging the students in the lessons. Legal concepts are often dry and boring, thereby making the experience dry and boring. The most fun part about the Street Law program is when the students are engaged. I really enjoy the games our lessons incorporate to teach the legal concepts,” Street Law volunteer teacher Logan Bushell said.
The curriculum committee for Street Law often draws on real-world examples that high school students can easily connect to, such as the 2002 Anchorage case in which a high school student unveiled a banner that said “Bong Hit 4 Jesus” while an Olympic torch bearer ran by at what was arguably a school-sponsored activity. During the seven lessons, Law students cover first the theory and case law of a topic, then spend the next class covering the practical applications of that law with games, role playing including some mock trial work, and thoughtful discussion.
“I think it is good that the law students teach the lessons, because they are young and the kids listen to them and also with their education in law, they can answer the students’ questions,” history teacher Susie Gerard said.
A Huge Commitment From Law Students
The Street Law club has about 75 volunteer teachers. That is about 1 in every 6 students at Gonzaga Law that have committed to be a part of a 3-to-4 member teaching team that prepares for, teaches, and follows up on seven 50-minute classes over the course of an academic year.
“Participation in Street Law requires a consistent and serious commitment from law students who already have way too much on their plate; they make the time because the experience is so worthwhile,” explains McGrane. “Teaching was one of my favorite things about my first-year law school experience.” Some of the volunteer law students already have teaching experience through Teach for America or similar programs, but many of them are getting in front of a classroom for the first time.
Working to Create a Sustainable Program
Street Law is a national program that launched in 1972. In 2009, Thomas More Scholarship recipients, who agree to dedicate their legal education and careers to public service, brought the program back to Gonzaga Law. In the 2011-2012 academic year, Street Law was granted official independent club status at the Law School. Last year, in response to a huge number of volunteers and requests from high schools, the program also expanded to include both Rogers and Lewis-Clark. “It is an aspiration of the program that in the future, we could expand even further, to include other high schools,” said McGrane. The program is funded mainly through fundraising events and a partnership with the Law School Admissions Council’s Discover Law program.
McGrane explains that “sharing knowledge and critical thinking skills helps the Law students solidify the concepts, and helps high school students develop an appreciation for the role of the law in their everyday life.”