Higher Education and Law

GR Bar brings U.S. Constitution to Ottawa Hills

September 27, 2013
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Five freshman social studies classes at Ottawa Hills High School will get an upgrade to their curriculum this year with the inclusion of the 3R’s program: Rights, Responsibilities and Realities.

The program, originally developed by the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and East Cleveland City Schools, teaches students about the U.S. Constitution using an interactive and small group approach.

The Grand Rapids Bar Association has adopted the program and will use it to address two prevailing needs:

First, to fill a gap that has left students with little to no education in the area of civics and the U.S. Constitution. Attorneys have begun to notice that an increasing focus of test results and a move toward curriculums heavily focused on the STEM courses — science, technology, engineering and math — has led to students receiving little to no education about law.

Second, to introduce high school students to career opportunities in the legal field and help create a pipeline of future attorneys — specifically, attorneys of color and female attorneys.

“What I really liked about it was that it was inclusive,” explained Mark Smith, attorney at Rhoades McKee and former Grand Rapids Bar Association president. “It included every kid in whatever grade the class is presented.

“What I liked even more about it was that the presentation module involved a lawyer with groups of five kids at a time, so if you have a 30-person classroom, you have six lawyers in there at a time. You are really communicating and interacting on a very direct level, rather than standing in front of a class of 30 kids and trying to give a lecture.”

Each of the five Ottawa Hills classrooms will have a team leader and five group leaders — all practicing attorneys — who each will work with groups of five to six students during the course of seven sessions, one per month from November through May.

Five of the seven sessions will focus on U.S. Constitutional law topics, including freedom of expression, prohibition against search and seizure, the due process clause and equal protection under the law.

“The neat thing is that, working with GRPS, we’ve been able to switch the lesson plan around so it actually fits within the general substance of what the students are learning at the time that we present the program,” Smith said.

“When they are learning about civil rights, we will be talking on a more detailed basis about how the Constitution and the various amendments helped the civil rights movement, and what happened in terms of the Supreme Court decisions that cleared the way for some of the major developments in that area.”

The other two sessions will serve as mentoring and career counseling sessions focused on helping students identify opportunities in the legal profession.

“The Managing Partner Diversity Collaborative has three basic work groups that are moving forward: pipeline development, recruiting and retention,” Smith said. “This is part of the pipeline development program. The intention there is to foster communications with a number of students and perhaps turn the light on for them that law is a potential career.”

At least 30 attorneys have volunteered for the program. Each will receive training and utilize the prepared lesson plan for each session.

Smith said GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal and others at the school have been incredibly supportive of the program. He hopes it can be expanded to the other GRPS high schools in the future.

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