Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Street Law: Practical. Relevant. Experiential. Blending legal content with innovative hands-on teaching strategies.

Laurie Jones, Associate Dean for Admissions, Oklahoma City University

SITTING IN THE FRONT of the classroom, eighteen sets of teenaged eyes on her, third-year law student Lindsey Pever is a bit nervous yet eager to see if her carefully planned lesson will engage the high school class and teach the students the elements of contract formation. After instructing the class on the basics of offer, acceptance, and consideration, with discussion on if and when minors can enter into contracts and the legal implications and differences between written and oral contracts, she launches into her best game show host persona and leads the students in a review exercise styled “The Jenny Springer Show.”

This “show” requires the high school students to act out and consider various scenarios involving negotiations and transactions and then decide if a valid contract has been formed; candy and team-bragging rights are awarded for correct answers. The high school students’ understanding of the material is evident, and they leave class with knowledge of basic contract law and their rights and responsibilities as consumers. Lindsey leaves knowing that her lesson was a success and that the students gained knowledge that will serve them well as they mature into adulthood and take on the realities of life after high school. The Street Law class at Southeast High School is finished for the day.

The original Street Law program began in Washington, D.C., in 1972, when a small group of Georgetown University law students created an experimental curriculum to teach District of Columbia high school students about law and the legal system, with a focus on the practical application of the law to the high school students' lives: thus, the name "Street Law." Since then, Street Law programs have expanded throughout the United States and internationally.

“The students at Southeast High School are ambitious and well-informed about local and national issues. They are positioned to make a difference, and it has been a neat opportunity to work with them.”

—Aimee Majoue '18

Currently, more than seventy domestic law schools and fifty law schools overseas participate in Street Law programs. Training on how to start a program has been offered in recent years to representatives from China, Korea, Russia, Egypt, Turkey, Latin America, and the Ukraine. Street Law courses are designed to empower young people around the world to be active, engaged citizens by equipping them with the knowledge and skills they need to successfully participate in and create change in their communities.

Topics typically covered in Street Law courses include an introduction to law and the legal system, criminal law and juvenile justice, consumer law, family law, individual rights and liberties, immigration law, and employment law. The approach is practical, relevant, and experiential, blending legal content with innovative hands-on teaching strategies that actively engage the high school students and draw upon the law students’ creativity, knowledge of the law, organizational abilities, and public speaking and presentation skills. Student involvement is emphasized through the use of problems, case studies, role-plays, cooperative learning experiences, research, and competency-building activities that are designed to provide  students with the ability to analyze, evaluate, and even resolve legal disputes. This practical law focus is a powerful vehicle for promoting civic learning.

Street Law was first offered at Oklahoma City University School of Law in 2018, although the idea for the course had been percolating for several years. Dean Emeritus Larry Hellman first mentioned Street Law in 2010, and creating such a course at OCU had been on my to-do list ever since. The logistics of finding the right high school willing to partner with us and generating interest in and support for such a course fell into place after a conversation with Brandon Carey '05, who was then the general counsel to Oklahoma City Public Schools. Brandon has an LLM in Constitutional Law from American University Washington College of Law, so I knew the idea of a Street Law course would pique his interest, and through his work for the school district, he’d know just the right high school for us to partner with for the course. He immediately suggested Southeast High School, an application school located about ten minutes south of the law school with a student body that is 95% Hispanic and Latino and a principal, Ms. Mylissa Hall, whom he anticipated would support the course and the idea of law students teaching in the high school classroom.

Principal Hall enthusiastically welcomed the concept of Street Law, and several months later, the school district and the law school approved offering the course through their respective curriculum committees and governing bodies. We then coordinated the scheduling of the course for the high school and law students, selected textbooks and teachers for the course, developed a specific syllabus for the subject matter, and advertised Street Law to students. Along the way, we sought support from community partners, and a generous grant from the Oklahoma County Bar Association helped fund a visit for the high school students to the law school and the federal courthouse.

"Street Law was an incredible experience. The practicality of a class that teaches students such invaluable information as to how to interpret a contract, understand a warranty, and develop a better understanding of immigration law, is beyond relevant and fundamental for these students. Looking back, I wish I would have had the opportunity to take a class like this in high school!"

—Brandt Sterling '18

The inaugural spring semester Street Law class had eighteen high school students and twenty law students. A bit shy with each other at first, the two groups of students bonded and looked forward to the hours they spent together during the week. The high school teacher, Mr. Garron Park, was present while the law students taught and graciously shared his teaching strategies and resources with the law students. Two of the law students came from teaching backgrounds and moved comfortably back into the role of educator, while some of the law students were initially a bit more cautious in front of the class. They drew upon their law school experience, their enthusiasm for the subject and students, and their colleagues’ ideas and collaboration to become masterful classroom teachers.

During the semester, the law students had class sessions with expert educators, lawyers, and psychologists to prepare them to teach the substantive material to the high school students and to address any issues that may arise in the classroom. The only issues we’ve encountered thus far are that the high school students could use more sleep and their textbooks are twelve years out of date. To remedy the latter issue, the law students have decided to donate their Street Law textbooks, the current edition, to the high school for next semester’s class of high school students.

Our goals in offering Street Law were lofty but straightforward:

  • Empower high school students to be active, engaged citizens with the knowledge and skills they need to participate in and contribute to their communities
  • Develop [in law students] a habit of pro bono service to the community
  • Serve as a review for third-year students on certain subjects tested on the bar exam
  • Have law students serve as mentors and role models for high school students, thereby encouraging the high school students to pursue higher education and perhaps a career in law, particularly for those who come from historically underserved populations

As we strive to meet these goals, along the way we’ve had fun, learned a lot about ourselves and our community, tapped into our creativity, and formed enduring friendships and partnerships. Street Law allows OCU Law students another opportunity to be servant-leaders and to view the city as our campus.


For more information on our Law School Program, please contact Lee Arbetman.