BERKELEY – Close to 40 young people from low-income communities from the East Bay area this year graduated from an annual two-month legal fellowship program.
The program, organized by the Berkeley-based Center for Youth Development through Law (CYDL), gives high school students from disadvantaged areas both work and academic experience.
The full-time, two-month program includes paid internships, classes on the UC Berkeley School of Law campus, law and social justice curriculum, social and emotional learning, and college and career development.
Students spend four days working as paid interns for law offices, nonprofits, government departments and elected officials. Each Thursday, they come to Berkeley Law for classes that integrate a legal curriculum with life skills and leadership development activities, according to a report in the California Bar Journal.
In total, 38 graduated from the program this year in a ceremony held Aug. 19.
More than 500 young people have graduated from the Summer Legal Fellowship Program since its inception in 1999.
The CYDL said it remains in contact with approximately 75 percent of graduates. As of August, 2015, none of these youth have dropped out of high school and 92 percent have pursued higher education. Thirteen also attended some type of graduate school. Eight have attended law school, one is in law school currently, and four are members of the California Bar.
In a piece originally published on the UC Berkeley School of Law website and reprinted by the California Bar Journal, writer Andrew Cohen talked to both students and mentors about the program.
Discussing current events, including the recent incidents of police violence, allows students to “express anger and frustration about injustices, but also to learn how to analyze situations from a legal perspective—and to understand constructive tools and avenues for making positive change,” Nancy Schiff, CYDL’s executive director, told the writer.
The students took part in two mock trials at Berkeley Law – one as a witness or lawyer, one as a juror. UC Berkeley School of law alumni judges Joni Hiramoto ’87 (Contra Costa Superior Court) and Leo Dorado ’74 (Alameda County Superior Court) presided.
It ties in with CYDL recently starting a mock trial program in Richmond high schools, enabling students from low-income backgrounds to compete in a rigorous county competition that previously included only more affluent school districts, according to the report written by Cohen.
The report also noted that Professor Bertrall Ross of the School of Law said the fellowship connects program participants with students in Berkeley Law’s First Generation Professionals group.
“This provides a tremendous opportunity for law students to help extend the ladders of opportunity to those striving to go to college and perhaps ultimately a career in the law,” Ross told the UC Berkeley School of Law website.
“We want to expand connections over the course of this year in hopes of building true and deep mentorship relationships. I think it will mean a lot for the law students to give in this way, and for the CYDL students to be able to broaden their imaginations about what’s possible for them.”
“The teachers here are amazing,” said Cali Luke, a senior at El Cerrito High School, in the article. “They make the lesson plans so interesting and encourage us to actively take part in the discussions. When you see a teacher working hard to engage you, that’s motivating.”