Legal Prep Charter Academy is the first and only legal-themed high school in Chicago. As an open-enrollment charter school in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, we utilize a unique law-themed curriculum to empower students to become advocates for themselves and their communities. This past September, our students had the perfect opportunity to display this leadership and advocacy.
Legal Prep was invited to present at the Alliance of Public Charter School Attorneys Legal Seminar, hosted by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. This conference brought together charter school attorneys from around the country; a fitting audience for our group of students with an extensive knowledge of the law and first-hand experience as students of a charter school. Our students were eager to take the lead and engage with attorneys who are invested in the issues that impact them directly. Legal Prep was honored to be able to close out with the final conference session. It was impactful for all to have students’ voice be the last thing that guests took away from the entire experience.
Students Take the Lead with Socratic Circles
Our CEO and Co-Founder, Rather Stanton and our principal, Katie-jo Ramirez attended along with nine students tasked with leading Socratic circles on an issue affecting education law. Socratic circles are often utilized in their law classes, so it was exciting for them to showcase this skill to a new audience. The students chose to discuss in-person and online bullying. The students worked together to create discussion topics and prepare questions based off a New York Times article from May 2018 entitled, “Instagram Unveils a Bully Filter.”
When the time came for Legal Prep to take the stage, Stanton and Ramirez began with a presentation on the school’s background and an overview of its legal theme. From there, the students stole the show and shared insight on how the school’s focus on the law has influenced their education. The students then broke into groups with conference attendees to lead Socratic circles. The energy in the room was palpable and the attendees were excited to engage with the students.
Building on Leadership Skills
The students felt comfortable taking the lead and enjoyed showing off their expertise. Junior Jacyiah Brooks said she “felt like a teacher and kept the group in order,” which was a fun and unique experience for her. Alijah Henderson, another junior student, felt that it was an “overall great experience,” and that there was a positive feeling amongst everyone in the room. Although there may have been some nerves going into the day, the students were able to rely on the skills and knowledge they have gained from their law classes as well as the leadership skills they have acquired as they have grown in their time at Legal Prep. Jacyiah explained that when the day came, she felt confident enough to “just go with the flow” and enjoyed getting into the swing of discussion. Alijah felt well prepared for the presentation, but felt a responsibility to accurately convey “the intellectual side” of Legal Prep. He wanted to be sure that he could represent the high level of thinking that his peers and Legal Prep students utilize daily.
They also appreciated getting the chance to engage with adult professionals in a new and unique way. Jacyiah thought it was great to hear “adult-level thoughts and feelings” and hear new perspectives and viewpoints on a topic she cared about. Alijah felt that it was constructive to hear both the adults’ personal connections to the matter, as well as their ideas for solutions. Overall, the session was productive and informative for both the students and the attorneys.; all able to gain new insight and collaborate to address an important issue.
Student-Led Solutions in Education
There is no better way to learn about issues facing our schools than to hear from students themselves. Having students involved in discussions of education issues allows both parties to learn from one another and create more effective solutions. Our students came out of this experience with new perspectives and knowledge, as well as a strong sense that they can affect change in their schools and in their world. We know that this experience is just the beginning of a lifetime of advocacy and leadership for our students.
Lena Walsh is the Development and Special Programs Manager for Legal Prep Charter Academy.
Interested in learning more about the Alliance of Public Charter School Attorneys (APCSA)? Join other attorneys who support growth and equity for high-quality public charter schools bt becoming a member here.