THE LAW AND LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE: THE PERSPECTIVE OF A TENTH GRADE TEACHER
By, Jonathan Morris, Moritz College of Law, J.D. Candidate 2014
“The reason I love LLI so much is because it lets me be myself. I can learn and ask questions without the fear of being judged or treated badly. The experience that I get here I will never forget.” – Ms. Kimberly Maldonado-Torres
African American high school students are notably falling behind their white counterparts in graduation rates, dropout rates, literacy rates, and college preparedness rates. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, low-income and African-American and Hispanic Ohio students are “significantly less likely to graduate high school on time than their wealthier and White peers.” Specifically, Ohio’s graduating high school Class of 2011 saw less than 60% of its black students, and less than 65% of its Hispanic students, graduate. However, despite these current realisms for Ohio’s high school students, the Law and Leadership Institute is fighting to reverse this trend.
On the first day of orientation, Executive Director Hope Sharett elaborated on the advertised description of LLI, showing that the program seeks to mix the right combination of collaboration, inspiration, and preparation in order to yield the success of students from the state’s underserved communities. Graduating the program’s second class of high school seniors in 2013, students who have completed the program not only boast a 100% high school graduation rate, but have moved on to college in equal numbers. These numbers, coupled with direct feedback from the students, show the significance and positive impact the program has on the lives of the students.
“LLI has helped me think outside the box and get over my fear of public speaking.” – Ms. Oumou Diallo
The Law and Leadership Institute is a fascinating approach to combat the demoralizing realities that many of the program’s students and their peers encounter every day. In a comprehensive four-year program, students dramatically improve their analytical thinking, problem solving and writing skills, while simultaneously overcoming personal fears of public speaking, working as a member of a team and respecting others. Through my short interaction with the tenth grade students of the LLI Summer Institute 2013, I have seen students take tremendous strides in areas that, just four weeks prior, were challenging for them. Learning to brief cases is an undertaking that infuriates even the most astute of students during their first year of law school, and writing legal memorandums is a skill that continues to be developed long after one becomes an attorney. However, our students rose to the occasion and actually developed a familiarity and comfort in accomplishing these tasks. In addition, by concluding the summer institute with completed resumes and cover letters, and the significant experience of a legal internship, these students are primed for success.
These accomplishments, culminating in a working internship within the cities preeminent law firms, were not attained without initial frustrations. Attempting to gain the respect, and hold the attention, of high school students being asked to attend a full-day of summer classes is always going to be a tough task. Moreover, using current law school students as the program’s instructors, without professional teaching backgrounds, may have set the program up for failure.
However, despite these initial challenges and possibility of disappointment, the end result was phenomenal. With the students being able to more readily connect with instructors not as far removed from the high school and undergraduate education process, they were more readily able to connect and correlate the work they were being asked to do with their end goal of going to college. The program’s success draws from the ability of its students to persevere through thoughts of the summertime activities they’re missing with their friends and realize their true potential as a graduating high school senior with the opportunity of choosing which college they wish to attend.
“To be honest, I just signed up for LLI because I had nothing to do at home, but now that I’m in the program, I’m glad I signed up. LLI has taught me how to show leadership and it has taught me to communicate better. I now show great work ethic because of LLI. It’s an experience that has opened doors more me. I’m thankful for LLI!” –Ms. Aminata Sylla
The Law and Leadership Institute is, and should continue to be considered, a crucial part of our local community and the legal profession in Ohio. Through providing programming to over 400 students, throughout Ohio, and linking those students with legal professionals and law firms surrounding Ohio’s law schools, LLI leaves a huge footprint wherever it goes. First, the programs legal based curriculum imparts important knowledge to the students, crucial to being a functioning, productive member of society. With civics education no longer at the forefront of most high school curriculums, LLI’s curriculum does a great job of developing an enlightened and responsible group of students committed to democratic principles, who will then be able to actively engage practicing democracy throughout their local communities. Next, by exposing successful high school students to the legal field, LLI has built a potential pathway to a future career in law. With the Law School Admission Council reporting the number of law school applications dropping 13.4% since 2012 and interest in the field of law dwindling, having a successful program, such as LLI, is crucial in stimulating the desire within the next potential generation of legal professionals.
“My experience here at Law and Leadership has been amazing. I really enjoyed myself and I look forward to coming back!” – Ms. Charity Underwood
“My experience at Law and Leadership was great. I had a wonderful time. This experience was really fun and the teachers kept class interesting.” — Ms. Agiana Jackson
In the words of the students, LLI can be described as the following: by promoting a dynamic learning environment, where the students are able to learn without fear of being judged or mistreated, the Law and Leadership Institute is a door-opening experience, which develops the students’ public speaking and communication skills, their ability to think outside the box, and cultivates a strong work ethic; all while being an amazing and enjoyable experience.
In reflecting upon my experience as an LLI Instructor, I personally had a great time teaching these students. The connection developed with these students and the ability of becoming a role model, and someone to look up to, was a life changing experience. LLI does a fantastic job of setting its students up for success, and should continue its strong presence across the state’s urban, academic, and legal communities.