The Maryland Department of Education budget cuts for 2010 were rather precise. The State eliminated the Summer Center for Law & Government program with a decisive slice, and, to Shelley Wojciechowski, the action stung like a grand heist.
"We were a line item zeroed out of the state budget," says Wojciechowski, Assistant Director of Citizenship Law-Related Education Program (CLREP), which produced the annual Summer Center for teenagers for six years. Now CLREP has reallocated their 2010 summer for MYLaw – Maryland Youth & the Law summer academy. Materials and topics for the new program will be recycled from its predecessor, but that doesn't mean the transition is simple.
"We don't know what to expect," says Wojciechowski seated in her office on the fourth floor of the Maryland Bar Center. "We're trying to keep the momentum from Summer Center going."
MYLaw will be a week-long course focused on teaching current 9th, 10th and 11th graders who are in the salad days of legal education. Wojciechowski says she's structured the week so students can see all aspects of the law. According to Wojciechowski, the principal instructor, participants will learn the basics to the state and Federal court systems as well as trial procedures, while also performing oral arguments in a Moot Court exercise, meeting notable judges, attorneys and law professors, and touring a few courthouses. MYLaw, though, has a capacity for only 30 kids.
"It's an Opportunity
others don't have. The teenagers are treated as peers, as adults - and they thrive"
A.J Bellido de Luna
MANAGING DIRECTOR OF UMD LAW SCHOOL'S CLINICAL LAW PROGRAM & MYLAW VOLUNTEER
"We are going to have kids of different ages, interests and ability levels," Wojciechowski contends, though she also admits she doesn't know what types of kids or how many will apply for this new program. The old program Summer Center specifically targeted academically advanced students who, most often, were involved in their school's Mock Trial team (one Summer Center graduate even formed a team at his Howard County High School). MYLaw, stresses Wojciechowski, wants kids with even the tiniest knowledge in law to participate, so long as the interest is there. That sentiment is reinforced by the minimal application requirements.
MYLaw asks applicants for a 400-word essay on why they're interested in the program. The contrast is evident when compared to CLREP's other programs, like Law Links, a summer internship for students that requires a certain grade average, a review of scholastic behavior, an interview and an essay.
One major difference for MYLaw participants though is a $500 fee. CLREP currently has a bit of funding allotted for a summer program, courtesy of the Maryland State Bar Association, but with no assistance from the state's Department of Education, participants are asked to pay. The speakers are volunteers but there are still expenses for MYLaw, including renting the classroom at University of Maryland School of Law. Wojciechowski doesn't like billing participants but there's no other option.
"It freaks me out as a parent to pay that much," she says.
With that in mind, Wojciechowski has her sight set on making MYLaw worth every penny. Financial aid can be available upon submission of a family's income tax statement.
Other than the guest speakers, courthouse trips and legal education, participants receive a daily lunch, a pocket Constitution and other course materials.
There are still a few hopes Wojciechowski has before MYLaw begins on July 19. First, she hopes MYLaw, though only a week long, maintains the statewide reach that Summer Center had. Kids came from western Maryland, Salisbury and Cecil County, and that appeal is a major concern for CLREP.
Secondly, Wojciechowski hopes the legal instructors and guests continue their services from Summer Center to MYLaw. A.J. Bellido de Luna, a 2004 UMD School of Law graduate and now Managing Director of the school's Clinical Law program, has promised to help MYLaw in some capacity. Last year while leading an exercise at Summer Center, he recognized a growth in the kids.
"It's an opportunity others don't have," says Bellido de Luna. "The teenagers are treated as peers, as adults – and they thrive. The kids don't just accept an answer. They challenge me in thought and I challenge them."