You would think it hard to get law students to take on more schooling given their demanding academic schedules, but students from the Pepper Chapter of Phi Alpha Delta at Widener School of Law, Harrisburg, are spending extra time in school-and loving it. The students recently completed another successful semester of community service by teaching young people about the law in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Pro Bono Office (PBA) and Law Education and Peace for Kids (LEAP Kids) program. Three Harrisburg area schools participated in the fall civic learning program: Downey Elementary, Marshall Elementary and Steele Elementary. Nine Widener law students presented various PBA and LEAP Kids lessons on civics to approximately 120 Harrisburg area children from late September through the end of November. But, the end of the fall program didn’t end the civic learning opportunities for area students — James Howard’s sixth grade class from Steele Elementary will journey to the law school to conduct a mock trial scheduled for the third week in January.
The PBA and LEAP Kids, as part of a statewide effort to promote civic learning headed by Pennsylvania First Lady and Third Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, provides age appropriate illustrations to the students about how the law benefits those seeking justice, how it punishes those who disobey the law and how students can set and achieve goals for themselves. Students are taught to utilize the legal system to resolve problems peacefully and to accomplish goals they set for themselves.
For example, Widener law students, Drew Miller and Jason Lambrino, asked students in one of their classes to draft an “Elementary School Constitution.” This proved to be very enlightening for students and teachers and allowed the students to draw a positive correlation among their abilities to participate in making the rules, enforcing the rules and changing the rules. This project also had the added effect of helping the students develop a greater appreciation for the rules they were told to follow in school.
The November presidential election was also a very exciting topic during the fall classes, where students were educated in the Electoral College process and the casting of state Electoral College votes. Finally, the semester program concluded with an in class mock trial based on either "Jack and the Beanstalk" or "Goldie Locks and the Three Bears." Law student instructors and classroom teachers were really encouraged by the students' enthusiasm displayed during the mock trials, allowing everyone to eagerly anticipate the spring session when new classes will be taught by the Widener PAD members.
Now in its third year, the PAD/PBA/LEAP Kids program has traditionally been a spring semester event only. This fall’s programming was the first step in making the civic learning initiative a year-round Pepper Chapter Event. Among the spring events planned are a statewide law student conference hosted by Widener PAD on teaching civics at the end of January and a mid-February national conference in Washington, DC, highlighting programs such as Widener’s PAD/PBA/LEAP-KIDS effort.