Washington University in St. Louis law students are taking their commitment to public service to the next level through a growing partnership with Northwest Academy of Law. With the assistance of law faculty and through their own initiatives, law students are reaching out to the inner-city St. Louis high school’s students to provide mentoring and law-related educational experiences.
Every week this fall, 15 law students have made the 20-minute trek to Northwest as part of John Inazu’s seminar, “The First Amendment in Schools.” Since 2008, law Prof. Katherine Goldwasser, JD, has supervised law practicum students through a combined teaching and mentoring program she created at the school. It’s a logical partnership as Northwest is a law-themed “choice” school, with a law-related curriculum, moot courtroom and law library.
Meanwhile, other students are part of the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project at the school. Since fall 2011, through a practicum supervised by Jane Moul, JD, professor of practice, two law students each semester have taught students at Northwest through a class that meets at least two, and sometimes three, times a week. The project takes civics education for public school students beyond its basic requirements by teaching students about their constitutional rights. (An expansion to the program was proposed as part of the Clinton Global Initiative University held at WUSTL last spring.)
Next term, second-year law student Aissatou Barry, a member of Inazu’s class, will start preparing Northwest students to travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in a national mock-trial competition.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Barry attended junior high at the Crown School for Law and Journalism, a largely African-American public school in New York. While there, she met with attorneys in a mentoring program who gave her confidence and encouraged her to become a lawyer. She sees her work at Northwest as her way of returning the favor.
“The students are so smart,” she said. “They know how to apply cases to real-life situations, and they have good analytical skills. It helps their self-esteem to know that they are successfully doing work that would challenge any law student.”
Unfortunately, the students — juniors and seniors — also face significant challenges outside of school, Barry said. Some have children of their own; some are caring for siblings or parents. Many work outside of school. And, a few weeks ago, some lost a friend to a shooting near the school.
“They have a lot going on in the community,” Barry said. As a result, attendance in her mock trial training varies from week to week.
“Mock trial is sometimes put on the back burner,” she said. “But they know this is a huge opportunity. It’s a chance to go to Washington, D.C., for kids who may not have even been south of Delmar Boulevard.
“This is an example of Washington University taking care of St. Louis,” Barry added. “People say that it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a village to create a village, too.”
On Nov. 8, members of the WUSTL “village” reached out to Northwest again by participating in an “Urban Peace Summit” at the school. A number of School of Law and Brown School students and faculty worked behind the scenes with the school to prepare for the summit.
“The students and staff of Northwest want to highlight positive responses to the challenge of urban crime,” Inazu, associate professor of law, said before the event. “The summit will allow high school voices to be heard in a way they haven’t been heard before. We want to forge even more connections between Washington University and Northwest by getting more law students and faculty to see the high school and facilitating more opportunities for mentoring and partnership.”
The Urban Peace Summit came on the heels of a recent “Urban Crime Summit.”
The Northwest students wrote an open letter about the crime summit that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published on its website. “The students came out of the Urban Crime Summit wanting to offer a constructive response,” Inazu said.
The students received feedback from C.J. Larkin, JD, senior lecturer in law, and Karen Tokarz, JD, the Charles Nagel Professor of Public Interest Law & Public Service; as well as WUSTL Civil Rights, Community Justice and Mediation Clinic law students Noble Freeman, Carol Jansen and Katy Swiss; and alumnus Ilunga Kalala (JD ’13).
In that spirit, Northwest crafted an agenda for the Urban Peace Summit that combined short messages from representatives of the city and the community with a more extended panel discussion. After a welcome from Northwest Academy Principal Valerie Carter-Thomas, presenters included representatives from the attorney general’s office, mayor’s office, St. Louis police department, and state Legislature, as well as local aldermen, judges and community leaders.
The summit ended with reflections by Northwest students.
“The best thing about working with the high school students is that it bridges the gap between just hearing about the school and actually seeing the students and the teachers who embody it,” said third-year law student Rebecca Morton, the student leader of Marshall-Brennan who taught last fall at Northwest. “I’ve really enjoyed being able to teach and utilize practical legal skills to break down complex concepts for a high school audience. It’s also just been great to be actively involved in the community outside law school.”
In the meantime, Barry is focused on fundraising for the mock trial competition. Money is needed not only for transportation, but also to help pay for dress clothes for students.
“We’re looking for funding from a variety of sources,” she said. “We’re applying for grants from the university and outside of the university, seeking funding from the United Way and reaching out to local law firms.”
Turning to her own professional goals, Barry said she wants to do “work that is mentally challenging, like international litigation or regulatory work. But I love this experience of working with the kids, because I also want to dedicate a lot of time to public service and maybe government work.”
“I love St. Louis,” Barry added. “I would love to stay here and help it realize its potential — there is so much to be done, but it just takes a few people to care.”