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Law students bring legal literacy to local schools

USC Gould students in Street Law program teach lessons on fundamental legal topics at nearby campuses

Donald Scotten teaching
Professor Donald Scotten teaches a Street Law workshop. (Photo/Courtesy of USC Gould School of Law)

Alexandra Mateus, a third-year law student, said the USC Gould School of Law’s Street Law program is the reason she selected the school.

“I really wanted to work with youth in a public interest way,” Mateus said. “When I learned about Street Law, I knew I wanted to be here.”

For the past 24 years, the nationally recognized educational outreach program run by students has brought legal literacy to local high school students. Throughout the academic year, USC Gould students visit nearby campuses and teach lessons on various fundamental legal topics.

Teaching the law to teenagers is the perfect educational experience for Mateus, whose career aspirations involve working with youth. Mateus, the 2015-16 president of Street Law, is currently working in Ventura County with the public defender’s office, splitting her time between the adult and juvenile divisions.

This year, Street Law worked with Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights and South East High School in South Gate, as well as Dorsey High School and New Designs Charter School, both near the University Park Campus.

Having to get up in front of a classroom of judgmental teens is really good for your public speaking skills.

Alexandra Mateus

“But even if you’re a law student who’s not interested in working on youth issues, Street Law can be a valuable experience,” she said. “Having to get up in front of a classroom of judgmental teens is really good for your public speaking skills. Plus, because a lot of lesson plans are based on the 1L curriculum, such as torts, you are gaining a deeper understanding of the material.”

Mentors and teen leaders

Malissa Barnwell-Scott, director of USC Gould’s Office of Public Service, advises the group, and many faculty present mock lectures for middle and high school students who visit the school for Street Law Mentor Day each semester.

“To get high school students to care and engage is a feat of its own,” Mateus said. “To see them engaged is the greatest reward.”

These on-campus Mentor Days, said Carlos Castillo, who co-leads the Law & Public Service Linked Learning Pathway at Roosevelt High School, have a significant impact.

“For most of my first-generation college-bound students, Street Law has been a transformative experience that has helped solidify their decision to pursue law-related careers.”

Street Law volunteers earn pro bono hours for attending monthly lesson plan meetings and teaching at the local schools. This year, the program expanded to include the Teen Leadership program, an afterschool program for middle and high school students at the Expo Center across the street from USC Gould.

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