LAWS Engages Youth

March 15, 2006
Ontario Justice Education Network

OJEN (Ontario Justice Education Network) published the following in the Sping/Summer Edition of their newsletter “Courtrooms & Classrooms”:

There are significant law-related changes underway in two of Toronto’s high schools. Since September 2005, Central Technical School and Harbord Collegiate Institute have been the pilot sites for Canada’s first law and justice-themed secondary school program.

Modeled after programs in two law themed high schools in New York City, the LAWS program – Law in Action Within Schools – is an initiative of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and the Toronto District School Board. The program targets students who have academic potential, but who may face barriers to succeeding in school.

The program has multiple aims. It is primarily geared at providing students with the skills, knowledge and confidence required to succeed in high school and to meaningfully consider pursuing post-secondary education. The program achieves these goals by using legal themes and issues to keep students engaged with the curriculum, by building connections between high school and law school students in the form of a weekly mentoring and tutoring program, and by introducing students to law-related professions and post-secondary institutions by organizing field trips and career panels.

The two pilot schools have taken quite different approaches to the LAWS program. At Harbord Collegiate, all grade ten students enjoy a full year of law and justice themes which are integrated into their Civics/Careers classes. This approach gives all 250 Grade 10 students at Harbord a taste of law through this mandatory course.

In contrast, at Central Technical School, a cohort of 55 students travel together from Grade 10 through 12 in a specialized program that integrates law and justice themes into core classes. The Central Tech approach identifies students who have academic potential but who may face barriers to succeeding. Many of the participating students are from diverse backgrounds including those from low income families, immigrant families and families with no history of post-secondary education.

Thus far, students from both programs have participated in visits to Toronto’s Old City Hall and the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. They have also taken part in a career panel, as well as workshops on the Youth Criminal Justice Act, Sharia Law, music downloading and intellectual property law, and racial profiling.

Faculty of Law students take an active role in the program. They volunteer in bi-weekly tutoring sessions at the two high schools, and provide interactive workshops. Faculty alumni are also involved, participating in career panels and acting in supportive roles throughout the academic year.

According to the Faculty of Law, the LAWS program is not just for high school students interested in pursuing a legal career. The program is working on building important life-skills that translate into all facets of social and professional life, such as advocacy, as well as writing and critical thinking skills. “These tools will help them on the road to graduation from high school, and will help them succeed in whatever employment they choose,” says Nikki Gershbain, Director of Special Projects at the Faculty of Law.

Alexis Archbold, the LAWS Program Coordinator, notes that the teachers the Faculty has been working with to develop and deliver the LAWS program have been extremely enthusiastic. They are happy to have an opportunity to work more closely with the law, and they believe that the program will make a difference in the lives of their students.

Excitement about the program is catching on in law schools and school boards across the province. The program’s success has allowed LAWS to secure funding from the Law Foundation of Ontario to develop a LAWS model that will be used by others to create unique partnerships that benefit high school students working with law school students in particular, and the legal profession and society more broadly. The Faculty is already working with OJEN to expand the program by sharing best practices with other post-secondary institutions.

For more information about the LAWS program, contact the Program Coordinator, Alexis Archbold, who can be reached at laws.law@utoronto.ca, or at 416-978-5841.

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