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Award-winning Street Law Program Expands with Summer Academy

Street Law, established at the law school in 2006 by two students looking for a way to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged young people, partners with community organizations and local schools to teach youth about their legal rights and responsibilities. Since the program was founded, Rutgers School of Law–Newark students have taught weekly classes about law, democracy and human rights to more than 1,700 teenagers in a dozen area schools and youth organizations. Both the program and director Alycia M. Guichard, New Jersey State Bar Fellow for Street Law, are widely recognized for their contributions to public service and for demonstrating how law students can give back to their host communities.

Guichard McCall & Allen-Kyle   
Alycia Guichard (left) with summer intern Danielle McCall (center) and law student Portia Allen-Kyle ’13.  

Guichard has significantly extended Rutgers Street Law’s original scope, most recently with the Street Law Seminar, Street Law Scholars Program, and the Summer Enrichment Law Academy, a six-week program for academically-promising Newark students entering 10th grade. A former foster child, she is passionate about finding ways to engage Rutgers law students and local professionals in providing educational and mentoring resources for inner-city teens.

“Street Law is important to me,” Guichard said, “because it helps at-risk youth understand the impact of the law in their communities and society at-large. By teaching young people about the civil rights that people have fought so hard to achieve, the program helps to define both their rights and responsibilities.” Classes also cover intellectual property – through lessons on artist/ record label negotiations and contracts – criminal law and procedures, and how to bring a case in small claims court. Just as valuable as the practical law lessons, she added, is that “the curriculum teaches teens to think critically about the world around them and advocate on behalf of things that seem unfair. Is it fair, for example, that there are no safe places to play in their neighborhood? Is it fair that commercial trucks are able to idle outside their homes?”

The most important lesson that Guichard hopes at-risk youth remember from Street Law “is that some of their everyday actions that can seem innocent either because they are accepted in their communities or because all of their friends are engaged in the activity can cause them great legal trouble if they do not understand the law. Our goal is to educate them about the dangers of engaging in such conduct and the effect it will have on their future.”

Law students who teach Street Law benefit considerably from their participation as well, said Guichard, not least of all “in their amazing ability to connect with and understand their students’ situation. Most participate because they already understand the need for teaching at-risk youth about the law. I do not feel like I have to sell Street Law to my volunteers — they all just get it!!” In their training to teach Street Law, students review several of their first-year courses and learn about public benefit laws, negotiations, laws related to youth in foster care, domestic violence laws, housing laws, and juvenile justice laws. According to Guichard, “Our students feel a sense of responsibility and understand the need to give back to the people in the local community while having the opportunity to get a great legal education at Rutgers–Newark Law School.”

  SELA students at the Library of Congress 
  Newark high school students who participated in the Summer Enrichment Law Academy visited the Library of Congress.
   

Understanding the importance of mentors and role models to her own success in college and law school, Guichard is committed to having Street Law incorporate lessons about critical life skills and civic engagement into its curriculum. During the Summer Enrichment Law Academy (SELA), she set aside a day during which local professionals – including a judge, a nurse, a prosecutor, a CPA, an artist, a former councilman, a teacher, a litigator, and a fundraiser – shared “what it took to get where they are and lessons learned along the way.” On other days, Rutgers Law School faculty and staff described their education and career paths in addition to covering the basics of intellectual property, tax law, juvenile justice, torts, ethics, free speech, and other legal topics.

Guichard readily shares her history of overcoming many of the same challenges faced by the Street Law students. Hearing her story “inspired me to realize that no matter where you came from, your dreams can come true,” wrote one SELA student.

Guichard’s evident passion for working with at-risk youth also inspires adults to devote their time and resources to the program. Individual lawyers and other professionals participated in Career Day and in field trips to Ellis Island, the Library of Congress, and Georgetown University Law Center. At Georgetown the group had lunch with Street Law Clinic director Richard Roe and Patrick Campbell, partner of the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. Campbell who sponsored the lunch, is vice-chair of Street Law Inc., the national Street Law organization. SELA’s institutional supporters included the Rutgers Academic Foundations Center, the New Jersey State Bar Foundation, Equal Justice America, and AT&T. Guichard is especially grateful to Deborah Walker-McCall, Rutgers–Newark Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Director of the Academic Foundations Center/Educational Opportunity Fund, who was SELA’s biggest partner and co-sponsor.

For their final assignment, asked what they valued most about the program, SELA students cited a new understanding of laws such as curfew restrictions and Megan’s Law; tips on how best to study, manage their time, and prepare for a job interview; and guidance about college possibilities, career options, and the importance of setting goals. A lesson that reassured many was, as described by one of the 10th graders: “Knowing that not knowing what one wants to do is still okay because that is what school is for.” 

AT&T check presentation to Street Law   
SELA was co-sponsored by a generous grant of $2,500 from AT&T. From left are: Erin Conroy, 2L from Fordham University School of Law interning with AT&T’s Legal Department; Associate Dean Fran Bouchoux; Howard Spierer, AT&T general attorney–litigation; Alycia M. Guichard, Street Law director; Vice Dean Greg Mark; and Susan McGahan, AT&T general attorney–intellectual property.   
   

Guichard, who is already planning next summer’s SELA, is enthusiastic about the students’ assessment of the experience. She offered the following comment as typical of the student evaluations: “What I enjoyed most about this program is the fact that they truly cared about our futures and they gave us the key things to be successful in life.” Like many programs for which parents sign up their less-than-enthusiastic teens, SELA had its share of reluctant “campers.” Not surprisingly, six weeks later, their reservations had turned to praise. As one student put it, “When I started the program, I hated having to be there.” Lessons about laws intended to protect young people and guidelines on appropriate conduct in a business setting changed his mind. “I’m glad that I didn’t turn down this opportunity,” he concluded. “This program saved me and helped me know what to do to be successful in life.”

Guichard was helped with many of the day-to-day responsibilities by summer interns Kiana Nicolas, a Howard University undergraduate, and Danielle McCall, a Rutgers University undergraduate. In addition, Edaine Murray, an incoming first-year law student, served as an assistant instructor, and program assistant Portia Allen-Kyle, Rutgers Law School Class of 2013, was the lead instructor for the program. Allen-Kyle had already experienced a semester as a Street Law volunteer when she applied for a summer position. Given her interest in working with youth and her commitment to public interest law, the program seemed a natural fit. “When I saw the opportunity to work as a program assistant with SELA, I was curious to see how those two interests would converge. During the program I was able to directly see how my legal education can help me make a direct impact on the lives of youth. In addition, this experience allowed me to improve my legal research, technical writing, and public speaking skills, as well as created great networking opportunities.”

As for future growth in the program, Guichard would like to reach more young people by adding new sites to the roster of schools that Street Law currently serves in Newark and surrounding communities. She also hopes to develop training sessions for adults such as teachers, caseworkers, correction officers, and police officers so that they can help to reinforce what the youth learn through the Street Law program.