High School Students Connect with the Law

By Christopher Allnatt, Judicial Clerk for the Honorable Jean Kerr Maurer and YLS Futures Committee member

In early July, 16 ninth and 10th graders visited Judge Adrienne Nelson at the Multnomah County Courthouse and toured the Davis Wright Tremaine law firm. The visits were part of "Ninth Grade Counts," a "Summer Youth Connect" program connecting at-risk high school students with academic support and providing them with career and college experiences.

The visit began with a tour of the courthouse and then to Judge Nelson's courtroom. Shy in their surroundings, the students were quiet until Judge Nelson's warm personality, at one point drawing two distracted girls up front, made them more comfortable. Judge Nelson talked about her responsibilities as a judge, and the conversation eventually shifted to the challenges Judge Nelson personally faced as a teenage girl and as an African-American.

Most of the students were female and came from families where English is a second language. Through their questions the students shared candidly their challenges: overcoming their own stereotypes and resisting pressure from some peers to engage in risky behavior. Judge Nelson let the students know that the challenges teenagers face do not change from generation to generation, and were similar to what she experienced. She concluded her remarks by stating, "No matter what happens, don't give up."

The students then toured the Davis Wright Tremaine law firm and met with an attorney, the firm's librarian and human resources director. When asked, the students remembered the 3,000 law books. But more importantly, the students also remembered the positive role models they encountered and which make the program so successful.

According to "Connected by 25" (see the Web site at the end of this article), the ninth grade transition is a critical time for students at risk of dropping out of school. Numerous elements can conspire to discourage a teenager from reaching for success. Ninth Grade Counts works with middle school counselors to identify students who have shown an increased risk of dropping out of school and gives them a summer of weekly interactions with adults in a broad range of career and college sites.

Members of the YLS Futures Committee organized and hosted these events. Bullivant Houser Bailey, Miller Nash and OTLA also hosted tours for different groups of students over the summer.

Over 1,000 students participated this past summer; you and your firm can add to the success of the Summer Youth Connect program. If interested you can learn more by contacting: Reese Lord, Education Strategies Program Coordinator for Mayor Sam Adams, 503.823,4027, reese.lord@portlandoregon.gov.

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