Denver Bar Association
September 2012
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A Seat at the Bar: Come Back to School with Democracy Education

by Erich Bethke

 

T



he 2012–13 school year for Denver Public Schools (DPS) has just begun and there are loads of volunteer opportunities for Denver’s attorneys and law firms. The DBA’s Democratic Education Committee (DEC) works with DPS to implement civicsbased programs in our Denver schools and community. This is a “hands-on” collaboration among lawyers, students, and teachers, and it has been the key ingredient in DEC’s many volunteer programs. Each year, DEC works to provide a host of meaningful in-class opportunities for attorneys, judges, and legal professionals who want to give back to their community through an active participation in Denver’s schools.

The DEC invites you to get involved in Denver’s schools by signing up for any of the following school programs:

PALS: the Partner Alliance of Lawyers and Schools

This is a new DEC program designed to build lasting and flexible collaborations between DPS schools and DEC volunteers. PALS establishes a yearlong partnership between a school and a group of volunteers to provide in-class activities that link the law and education.

PALS provides a unique opportunity for lawyer-volunteers to really get to know teachers and students. Specifically, DEC works to match three volunteers with up to three teachers or classrooms at each participating school. At the beginning of the school year, volunteers and teachers meet to formulate a plan. PALS is intended to be a very flexible program, and each volunteer is asked to participate in four to six in-class activities during the school year. At the end of a school year, each volunteer is asked either to renew his or her commitment for the next school year or to find a successor volunteer.

In the pilot year of the program, during the 2011–12 school year, three schools were adopted by PALS:

• Morey Middle School, adopted by Christy Crase, Justin J. Prochnow, and Erich Bethke.

• Smiley Middle School, adopted by Michelle Adams, Janet Drake, and Brad Hill.

• CEC Middle College of Denver, adopted by Dufford & Brown, P.C. This fall, PALS is adopting four more schools:

• Steck Elementary School, adopted by Bayer & Carey, P.C.

• Carson Elementary School, adopted by Ireland Stapleton Pryor & Pascoe, P.C.

• Hill Campus of Arts and Sciences, adopted by Peg Perl (and seeking two other volunteers).

• Denver School of Science and Technology Green Valley Ranch High School Campus. DEC is seeking three volunteers.

Each PALS partnership has its own unique programs and activities for the school year, based on the interests and goals of the students. DEC and DPS are working to provide a pool of information and examples for PALS curricula and activities.

DPS Guest Teaching Initiative

This volunteer initiative allows an attorney, judge, or paralegal to go into a classroom to substitute teach in K-12 Denver Public Schools. Throughout the school year, there are three to six planned days when DPS teachers are offsite for a seminar, and volunteers are needed to guest-teach at several Denver schools. A guest-teaching day requires a time commitment of either a half-day or a full day, depending on the school’s scheduling needs.

Denver Regional Mock Trial

There are many ways attorneys, judges, and paralegals can volunteer and become involved in the Denver Regional Mock Trial competition for Denver high schools.

As an attorney-coach, volunteers partner with Denver teachers to coach students about mock trial elements and prepare a case problem for the regional mock trial competition. The time commitment varies from October to March.

As a scoring panelist, volunteers adjudicate mock trial rounds at the regional tournament in February. An orientation and bench brief are provided in advance. The time commitment is three to four hours per round at the competition. Come Back to School with Democracy Education

As a courtroom monitor, volunteers monitor courtrooms and rounds during the tournament. An orientation and checklist are provided. The time commitment is three to four hours per round at the competition.

DPS Attendance Mediation Workshops

These workshops are a great way to help a local school improve student attendance. Developed through researchbased practices, Attendance Mediation Workshops (AMWs) target middle and high school students who already have met the statutory definition for habitual truancy—four unexcused absences in one month or 10 unexcused absences in a school year.

AMWs are a voluntary program offered by DPS where the school officials meet with students and their families to identify the reasons for a student’s non-attendance and then create written agreements to solve these problems and assure improved attendance.

The AMWs occur on scheduled weeknights. Each AMW begins with a brief presentation to the students and their families by an attorney or judge volunteer. This presentation allows the volunteer to make a quick but comprehensive presentation of the Compulsory School Attendance Law and the ramifications of violating that law. This program has proven to be an effective solution to many truancy problems. A brief training program is provided for volunteers.

Court Tours

DEC, the DBA, and DPS have worked together to coordinate and schedule court tours for teachers and students, which are guided by a lawyer-volunteer. The tour includes meetings with judges and selected viewings of court proceedings. The time commitment for this volunteer opportunity is approximately three to four hours.

In-class Mock Trials

Visit a classroom to help implement and explain what a mock trial is and how it works. Teachers work with students in advance. Mock trial scripts are available for elementary, middle, and high school classes. The time commitment for this volunteer opportunity is about two sessions, each involving about two to three hours.

Law Day Art Contest

Visit a school to discuss Law Day (which is observed on May 1) and explain the DBA’s Art Contest for elementary school (K-5) classes, which focuses on rudimentary concepts of our legal system. Volunteers help promote awareness, participation in the contest at schools, and judging of submissions. The time commitment for this volunteer opportunity is approximately two sessions, each involving about two hours.

We the People

Help judge a mock congressional hearing performed by elementary, middle, or high school students. Sample curricula and scripts are available. The time commitment for this volunteer opportunity is approximately two sessions, each involving about three hours.

Career Days

Speak about the legal professions to a classroom or at a DBA-sponsored booth during a career day event. The time commitment for this volunteer opportunity is about two to three hours and is ongoing during the school year, depending on DPS requests.

Get Involved

The best way for you to get involved in DEC’s school programs is to to get on DEC’s membership email list. DEC will contact you by email with updates for volunteer opportunities throughout the school year. Contact Carolyn Gravit at cgravit@cobar.org or Meghan Bush at mbush@cobar. org.

The DEC meets monthly from noon to 1:30 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month at the DBA’s offices. You can participate in person or by phone.

We’ll See You at School!

As DEC’s co-chair, it has been my privilege to work with an amazing group of volunteers to provide truly meaningful programs that allow lawyers, teachers, and students to work and learn together. Why wait to volunteer? Jump into the school year! D

 

Erich Bethke co-chairs the DBA’s Democracy Education Committee with DPS General Counsel John Kechriotis. He is a director at Senn Visciano Canges P.C. where he practices business and family law. Bethke can be reached at ebethke@sennlaw.com or (303) 298-1122.

A Seat at the Bar is an occasional series that highlights a committee or program of the Denver Bar Association.


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