In a new training video for the Street Law legal education program, Joseph Certa 3L stands before a room of high school students. Behind him, on the wall, are two signs, spaced a few feet apart, that read “Strongly Agree” and “Strongly Disagree.”
“I’m going to read a statement,” Certa says in the video. “Just take some time to think about it silently … Don’t get up yet.”
In a few moments, the high school students will line up near the sign that best reflects their position on a policy debate (in this case, whether government should regulate social media content), but Certa wants them to deliberate before they do.
The training video in which Certa appears isn’t for the teenagers in the room. Instead, it’s for law students, like Certa, who, through Street Law programs, will teach civics and legal concepts to high school students around the world. In the scene, Certa is modeling a key strategy for Street Law facilitators: wait time. By giving high school students time to think about a complex issue, he’s encouraging them to do the “heavy intellectual lifting,” a core Street Law priority. The program prioritizes interactive exercises that capture students’ attention—the opposite of a long lecture.
Learning by Teaching
Street Law, Inc. was founded at Georgetown Law Center in 1972 and now operates globally. Through it, high school students gain a deeper understanding of law and democracy, while law students learn how to discuss complex legal issues in plain language and how to analyze legal problems.
At NYLS, Street Law is an experiential course that launched in fall 2017 and, in 2018, was expanded from one semester to two. It is taught by Adjunct Professor Amy Wallace, who, as a Georgetown Law student, participated in the program and has been an enthusiastic supporter of its mission ever since.
“Street Law is an extremely beneficial program both for the high school and law students,” Professor Wallace said. “Our Street Law program aims to empower high school students to see themselves as important participants in their community and to help them develop the 21st-century skills—critical thinking, advocacy, communication, and negotiation—to be active contributors. The law students practice breaking down legal concepts for non-lawyers and develop a genuine connection to the community.”
NYLS students teach 10th- and 11th-graders at Charter High School for Law & Social Justice (CHSLSJ) in the Bronx, which was co-founded by Professor Richard D. Marsico. Professors Marsico and Wallace worked on building NYLS’s program to be as beneficial as possible to both groups of students. In addition to their in-classroom duties, NYLS participants meet for a weekly seminar to discuss teaching best practices.
“The Street Law Program has been crucial for the fulfillment of the legal education mission of CHSLSJ,” Professor Marsico said. “The student-centered lessons are fun and interesting while teaching our students legal content and practical skills.”
NYLS Takes Center Stage
Earlier this year, when Street Law, Inc. expanded its training materials to include four new facilitator training videos, the organization’s leadership looked to NYLS.
One day in February, Certa, Ruth Jeannite 3L, and Hannah Osman 3L—all of whom had taken the course the prior fall—modeled the program’s interactive teaching techniques on camera, along with a group from Vanguard High School. All four videos were filmed entirely at NYLS.
In one video, the high school students prepare for a mini moot court exercise, in which they will serve as petitioners, respondents, or justices. Jeannite clarifies key definitions for them, modeling a critical part of the activity.
“The petitioner is someone who loses in the lower court but appeals the decision to the higher court,” she says. She pauses for a beat to let it sink in. “The respondent is someone who wins in the lower court … They need to argue that the lower court’s decision was correct.” The high school students nod in understanding.
In another video, which outlines a lesson on deliberation, Osman walks the students through small-group debates on whether voting should be compulsory. She then expands the conversation by inviting the entire group to share their thoughts.
This month, the four finalized videos were posted to Street Law’s website. Next, they will be translated for international use.
Meanwhile, a new article by Professor Wallace on the unique reciprocal relationship between NYLS and CHSLSJ is scheduled to run this fall in the International Journal of Public Legal Education.
At NYLS, Street Law resumes this fall and spring—and more students than ever have enrolled, demonstrating that learning by teaching continues to be popular and effective, more than four decades after the program’s launch.
Watch the Videos
In this set of four videos, NYLS students model critical Street Law facilitator lessons on campus:
- Teaching Tips for Facilitators: Tips include giving students time to process ideas before answering, checking for understanding of complex directions or concepts, and pushing students to do the heavy intellectual work.
- Mini Moot Court: This video explains four stages of taking high school students through an abbreviated moot court exercise, where they role-play as petitioners, respondents, and judges.
- Take a Stand: This video prepares facilitators to identify and advocate for their position on a contested public issue.
- Deliberation: Students learn skills for deliberating complex, nuanced issues, first in small groups, and later among the entire class.