The Grand Rapids Bar Association and Grand Rapids schools Tuesday, Sept. 17, launched the 3Rs program, in which 30 volunteer attorneys will teach constitutional law and other civics subjects to ninth-graders.
“I think it will be a service academically,” said Kristin VandenBerg, president of the 1,400-member Grand Rapids Bar Association about working with GRPS to integrate it into its curriculum.
“Our hope is to develop connections with students and help them to think about their future and get a little bit more specific. Mentoring is really a piece of the program.”
The program’s goals are to improve understanding of and respect for the rule of law and the Constitution; provide practical career counseling to focus students on their potential beyond high school; and to improve the pipeline of minorities flowing into legal careers in the region.
3Rs is being piloted at Ottawa Hills High School, 2055 Rosewood Ave. SE. Members of the bar and GRPS staff and administrators were at the high school Tuesday night for a reception to kick off the 3Rs program, which stands for Rights, Responsibilities, and Realities. A total of 150 freshman will be involved.
“We want students to realize the Constitution is relevant and affects them every day,” said Natasha Neal, the Student Reform Supervisor for GRPS, who has a law degree from New York Law School. “The lawyers will be bringing in real-world examples to illustrate topics to engage.”
“It is easier for them to learn a concept, if they are talking about something real they can relate to.”
Classes are 50 minutes. Seven lessons are planned from Nov. 13 to May 14, covering topics from freedom of speech and expression to the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Career counseling is also an important part of the program and part of the lesson plan.
The program will wrap with a debate. The program is modeled after the successful 3Rs program the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association started with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and East Cleveland City Schools in 2006. The program has grown to include 400 to 500 volunteer lawyers a year, working with 2,200 to 3,000 10th-graders in 18 to 22 high schools.
A few years ago, the leadership of the Grand Rapids bar heard about the Cleveland program and decided to explore it further. At the time, the Managing Partners Diversity Collaborative, an effort to retain and recruit attorneys of color and women in the West Michigan area as part of a pipeline initiative, was getting underway.
Twelve firms are collaborating on 3Rs, including Foster Swift Collins & Smith. Michael Homier, managing partner for Foster Swift’s Grand Rapids office, said he became interested in law because an attorney came into his classroom and talked about careers in the legal profession.
“This is a great opportunity to get in the classroom and inspire some of these kids,” said Homier, who said 3Rs has multiple benefits. “We want increased diversity of the legal field in Grand Rapids. One characteristic that gives you the best chance is family connection.”
Rodney Lewis, principal of Ottawa Hills High School, said the pilot will generate interest in various legal fields, as well as help students gain a greater understanding of the U.S. Constitution and what it means to them as citizens of the United States.
The announcement coincides with Constitution Day. Tuesday morning, 30 attorneys were in 30 GRPS fifth-grade classrooms educating them on the Constitution. Schools across the country honor the signing of the Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787, with a special teaching emphasis. The primary funding for 3Rs will be covered by the Managing Partners Diversity Collaborative and the bar association. Ongoing operating costs will be determined by the number of participating schools – all of which will be determined at a later date.
By Monica Scott | email@example.com