Saturday, October 29, 2011

Law in Action Within Schools expansion with Osgoode Hall means more mentors for more students

By Lucianna Ciccocioppo

 Student Greeters at CW Jefferys
Student greeters at CW Jefferys

(Sept. 20, 2011) As students from the CW Jefferys Collegiate Institute band played the minor-key theme song of “Law & Order” in the auditorium, more than 250 Grade 10 students from the Jane-Finch neighbourhood school and other diverse Toronto secondary schools filed in, took a seat, and fidgeted while they waited to hear the big news about Law in Action Within Schools

The news that everyone was excited about was LAWS’ expansion to Osgoode Hall Law School, the newest partner to the mentoring, tutoring and justice-theme educational program that started at the Faculty of Law and Toronto District School Board six years ago.  

 On-stage announcement

LAWS director Sarah Pole, with LAWS graduate Trevlyn Kennedy,  Osgoode Hall dean Lorne Sossin, LAWS students Michelle Ho and Murtadi Khan.

The launch event drew the deans, faculty and alumni from Toronto’s law schools, Justice Kofi Barnes of the Ontario Court of Justice and Osgoode Hall alumnus, York Chancellor Roy McMurtry, former chief justice of Ontario, as well as principals, teachers and TDSB officials.

With two law schools now involved, the expansion means more high school students, about 1,000 in total, can be matched with volunteer law students, lawyers and others in the legal profession, to enrich students classroom learning and encourage them to stay in school and meaningfully consider postsecondary education. 

 LAWS kicks off at C.W. Jefferys

CW Jefferys, Westview Centennial Secondary School and Danforth Collegiate & Technical Institute are the new beneficiaries, building on the successes already achieved at Central Technical School, Harbord Collegiate Institute and Monarch Park Collegiate.

The program is growing because it works.

LAWS “makes the impossible possible,” says Central Tech English teacher, Stan Klich, who teaches in LAWS. He’s seen the light bulbs go on in these students’ eyes, and the improved attendance, grades and goals speak for themselves.

“LAWS students come back from field trips asking questions. They come back from summer jobs in law firms with specific goals and aspirations for the future,” says Kilch. “For me, LAWS is social justice in action.”

 LAWS students being interviewed by the press
A Ming Pao reporter interviews the LAWS students

Speaker after speaker at the event lauded LAWS, the only program of its kind in Canada. Current and former LAWS students gave examples of transformed lives and aspirations.

Trevlyn Kennedy, who has just graduated from the LAWS program at Central Tech is now seriously considering going to university and pursuing law school, despite starting her high school career in the technical stream.

“Working at a law firm helps you grow in so many ways,” says Kennedy. “You get a chance to talk to people who may have gone through the same things you are experiencing. LAWS is the best thing that ever happened to me, and I am grateful for this opportunity. It really does broaden your horizons and give you a different perspective on life.”

 Dean Mayo Moran speaks with guests
Dean Mayo Moran (left) speaks with guests

Dean Mayo Moran told students about her modest beginnings in a forestry-town trailer park in northern BC. “If somebody would have asked me back then what my chances were of becoming a lawyer, I would have said ‘infinitesimal.’” But she credits encouragement from her mentors and teachers that helped her with her career path which eventually led her to the deanship of the Faculty of Law.

But more importantly, Moran encouraged students to become engaged citizens. “We all depend on a diverse and engaged population to making the justice system better. We can’t squander the resource of talent in this room.”

Osgoode law dean, and former UofT law professor, Lorne Sossin, reminded students York’s law school is “just up the road from new partners CW Jefferys and Westview …Law for us is the power of ideas. And it can be a huge part of the solutions to society’s problems.”

 Cornell Wright (right) and other guests
Alumnus Cornell Wright and LAWS volunteer (right) with guests

Faculty of Law alumnus and long-time LAWS volunteer Cornell Wright, partner at Torys LLP, said it’s important to convey high expectations to students—the same high expectations his parents, who immigrated to Canada from Jamaica, had of him. Wright is the first lawyer in his family.

“We want to help you develop the skills and confidence to ask hard questions so that you can effect the change we need in our world. We want more of you at York and UofT law schools and as business leaders, teachers and decision-makers in government.”

That day may not be that far off. Program director, Sarah Pole, says the first cohort of LAWS is now applying to law school, “and we’re helping them with the process.”

In the media