Law and Justice Academies of Contra Costa County

“We often hear that students are our future. Volunteer Contra Costa attorneys working with local high school students accomplish two goals: Law & Justice Academies instill in students purpose for remaining in school and direction in a variety of law-related careers after graduation. All of our futures are brighter because of these collective efforts.”  These inspirational and encouraging words are from Dick Frankel who is a member of the Deer Valley Law & Justice Academy Advisory Committee. One DeAnza faculty member stated “The goal is to inspire the students toward the field of law.”

Attorney Richard Alexander with RHS Law students during lunchtime mentoring session

According to the State Department of Education, there are 15 categories of academies. The academy reform educational model is based on meeting the needs of at risk students: poor attendance, behind in earned credits, low academic motivation, economically disadvantaged, low state test scores, or low GPA. An additional goal is that students meet admission requirements for UC. The hope is that many of the students participating and benefiting from this initiative will fill the justice system diversity needs of the future. Law academies have been established in the Deer Valley, Richmond, Pinole, DeAnza and Kennedy high schools.

Standard learning goals include such skills as: reasoning, persuasive arguments, consensus building, positive verbal written communication, meeting vision, goals and mission of an organization, encouraging ideas, analyze, plan and prioritize, application and foundation of laws and trial procedure, problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork,  leadership, listening, technology, responsibility, ethics, health and safety.  These skills are to be learned within the context of the standard classes in high school. Connecting standards based outcomes to contextual information from industry professionals help engage students in the classroom. The academy model answers the age old student question of “Why” do I have to learn English, history, math, science and so on. The performance goal is based upon linking rigorous, relevant education with real world experience and 21st century skills. According to recent statistics, Academy student performance exceeds the state averages in English, math, graduation rates, and meeting UC admission requirements.

Christopher Darden and Diana Becton with RHS Law students during the Color of Justice event held in Martinez

Some examples of contextual learning include: court tours in superior, appellate and federal courts including meeting with judges, trial attorneys, FBI, DEA and Secret Service Agents, law school students, attended actual Superior Court and Appellate Court held in San Francisco and at the Deer Valley theater, guest speakers, in-class mock trials, mock trial competition, police station tours, Alcatraz tour, e-mentor direct mentoring, and professional development of faculty by judicial officers, and the De Anza students are launching an exciting project in partnership with the ACLU of Northern California to analyze and evaluate the current realignment plans initiated at the county level in response to Brown v. Plata and AB 109. The biggest needs in the future are: donations and sponsorships for program sustainability, internships, mentoring and summer jobs. To donate or to find out more about how you can support the law and justice academies of Contra Costa County, please contact Ken Torre at torrecourt@aol.com .

CA Supreme Court Associate Justice Carol Corrigan in RHS courtroom

There are many dedicated volunteers assisting the efforts in Contra Costa and we are grateful for all of their support. Industry and Educational partners include representatives from the superior court, state and county bar association, other justice professionals, California Center for College and Career and Education, Development Center of Massachusetts, community (parents), teachers, principals, district administrators, district superintendent, school board trustees, county and state boards of education with an advisory committee assisting each academy. Additionally, the Judicial Council of California and State Bar of California are key supporters. DeAnza is truly fortunate to have Judy Johnson, State Bar Emeritus Executive Director as its Advisory Committee Chair.

Attorneys Ryan Wells and Michael Nisperos with RHS Law students during lunchtime mentoring session

Don Gill, Antioch Unified School District Superintendent summarizes: “John Adams believed young people should be educated in the principles of freedom. Deer Valley Law Academy provides students with the opportunity to cultivate the virtues, knowledge, and skills necessary for civil participation so that they can better carry out their roles as citizens. We can do no better for our society than to support our children and young adults further their education.”

It is truly rewarding to see the student interest, engagement, performance and confidence thrive with the academy education model with all of this support.

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