By Julia Dacy
The law profession can be intimidating for high school students unsure of exactly where their interests lie. To combat this, Elk Grove and John Hersey high schools began offering a legal services career pathway last year to provide students with the chance to try out a law-focused education and provides insight into a variety of occupations including law, social work and corrections.
Positive feedback from students who began the pathway at Elk Grove and Hersey encouraged the District to develop Year Two courses – Constitutional Law and Criminal and Civil Law. The program is also expanding to Rolling Meadows, Wheeling and Buffalo Grove. This school year, over 300 students across District 214 are registered for the Year One American Law class.
Students were initially introduced to this pathway through their social science classes and student services. Closer to registration, schools counselors worked with interested students to explain the program further. In the future, career aptitude tests taken by middle-schoolers can help District schools focus on students who might benefit from the legal services pathway.
Elk Grove Social Sciences Division Head, Tim Phillips, sees the legal services pathway as a natural addition to the District’s Career Pathways program. According to Phillips, the vast number of professions in the legal field as well as the connectivity of law to other areas like science and journalism make it an ideal career pathway.
“There are so many different careers within this pathway, so I think by starting earlier, a student can get an introduction into the legal system and realize quickly if they like it or not,” Phillips said.
As the law evolves, so must the way it is taught. This includes offering an early start to law classes in high school and a heavier focus on current events which are incorporated into both year one and year two classes. Students are introduced to the ways law and law enforcement are rapidly changing due to new legislation, Supreme Court decisions, and political discourse.
When originally developing the curriculum for this pathway, administrators including Phillips and Hersey Division Head, Tom Smith, looked to similar programs in the Chicagoland area as well as existing law-focused classes offered by the District. However, most of the coursework is decided by the individual teachers. As the pathway continues to expand, Phillips hopes to see more hands-on experiences in addition to traditional classroom learning.
“I think the teachers that are involved, as they get further ingrained, will be able to expand what they think is best for the students,” Phillips said.
Year One students will again participate in a mock trial hosted by the Northwest Suburban Bar Association. Through this project, students will spend October to February preparing an argument for a fictional case at the Rolling Meadows Courthouse.
In the next year, the District will be working to develop a Year Three curriculum as well as add more real-world opportunities including guest speakers and possible industry certifications through Harper College.
Julia Dacy is an undergraduate at the University of Denver double majoring in Strategic Communication and Socio-Legal Studies. She interned in the District's Department of Community Engagement and Outreach during the summer of 2017.