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For nearly three decades, students in Georgetown University Law Center’s Street Law Clinic have volunteered as teachers in D.C.’s public high schools. Since the program’s launch in 1972, hundreds of lawyers have taken part, instructing thousands of area high school students in the legal system, democracy, and human rights. But last year Georgetown 3Ls Jacquelyn Davis and Joshua Kern decided that taking on one class at a time just wasn’t enough. They envisioned an entire school built on the curriculum and philosophies of the Street Law program — a school where underachieving students would be motivated by interactive learning and empowered by an education in the law and civic participation. It may sound like pie in the sky, but their 150-page proposal to the D.C. Public Charter School Board was the only application approved this year. Next fall, Davis, Kern, and a small group of key classmates and advisers will open the District’s first law-related charter school — the Thurgood Marshall Academy — in Southeast D.C. “I believe in this school 100 percent,” says 29-year-old Davis, who heads the school’s board of trustees. “It’s almost like a child at this point.” There’s a lot to be done in the next 11 months. At the moment, Thurgood Marshall Academy has no teachers, no students, and nowhere near the $100,000 in private funds it needs to support its ambitious programs. The school’s founders hope to welcome their first class of approximately 80 ninth-grade students in September. Each year thereafter, the school will add a new freshman class until it is operating ninth- through 12th-grade classes for approximately 400 students. The school will provide a comprehensive high school education with a law-related social studies curriculum based on the Street Law program. Rigorous after-school and weekend classes are planned to help underperforming students master basic reading and writing skills. “Most of our students won’t be performing at the their grade level. They will be ninth-graders reading at a third-grade level,” Kern says. In addition, the group hopes to offer evening classes in reading and computer skills for community members. But will it work? Will a group of idealistic 20-somethings prevail where trained educators have failed? “I guess we think we can do a better job because we’ve seen Street Law work,” Davis says. “I saw the power of connecting with kids and giving them lessons and materials they could get excited about.” According to Davis, when she started out with the program, fewer than one-third of her students were showing up for class. But by the school year’s end, students were even coming in on the weekends. “What I saw over and over again were very bright students who had not been well-educated,” Davis says. “They weren’t used to being engaged in their classes.” IMPACT PLAYERS As participants in the Street Law program last year, both Davis and Kern taught classes three days a week at Frank W. Ballou High School in Southeast D.C., a school with poor attendance, high drop-out rates, and low scores on standardized tests. Frustrated by their limited impact on the lives of their students, the pair began discussing ways to improve the learning environment at neighborhood schools. They also began questioning whether they could do a better job. With encouragement from the longtime Street Law director, Professor Richard Roe, and Adjunct Professor Lee McGoldrick, Davis and Kern put together a student-run seminar to explore the feasibility of starting their own charter school. Over the next six months the two faculty members and nine students, including Davis and Kern, drafted the application for Thurgood Marshall Academy. Now, the founders concede, comes the hard part — implementation. Going forward, Davis, Kern, and McGoldrick make up the core team, supported by their classmates and Roe, who serves on the board of trustees. Davis, president and co-founder of six-year-old nonprofit Hands on D.C., brings the nonprofit know-how. Kern, a former technology consultant with an MBA from Tulane University, adds the business savvy, serving as the school’s interim executive director. And McGoldrick, a former public school teacher in Los Angeles, serves as interim principal. McGoldrick, 29, graduated from Georgetown’s law school in May 1999 and stayed on as an adjunct professor for the Street Law Clinic. She currently works in the U.S. Department of Education. Their co-founders include two former public school teachers, a former PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant, and a former Olympic speed skater. The group’s diverse expertise immediately impressed Shirley Monastra, executive director of D.C.’s Public Charter School Resource Center. “They have more than enthusiasm,” Monastra says. “They have education background, business background, legal background, and they have the capacity to generate support for what they’re doing.” D.C.’s Covington & Burling, a longtime supporter of the Street Law program, acts as pro bono counsel to the school. “It’s been inspiring,” says Covington’s Gideon Grunfeld, a seventh-year associate who has done basic corporate work for the school and testified in support of the application at a public hearing earlier this year. “The whole development of the school has been so fast-paced.” LOOKING FOR A PARTNER As a publicly funded charter school, Thurgood Marshall Academy will receive approximately $7,200 per enrolled student. The founders hope to raise additional funds to support extra programs, such as computer training and adult literacy classes. The local legal community is a key fund-raising target. “What we’re trying to get is a true partnership,” Kern says. “We’d like not only the financial support of a firm, but to also get lawyers involved at a strategic level on the board of trustees.” In addition to one or more major law firm sponsors, Kern says they will look to area firms for mentors, volunteers, and internship opportunities for students. He even sees a practical reason for firms to invest in the school. “It’s not that all the kids will grow up to be lawyers or paralegals, but if it piques their interest, then they’ll have the skills to work for a firm,” he says. Meanwhile, Kern and Davis have put off their own legal careers to devote themselves to the charter school project. Davis, who has committed to working for the school for at least its first academic year, has passed on offers from New York’s Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays & Handler and San Francisco’s McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen. Kern is deferring an offer from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and applying to be Thurgood Marshall Academy’s permanent executive director — a position that pays $55,000, less than half of what he might expect to make at a law firm. “It’s very scary,” Kern says. “I’ve been so interested in the project for this year, it’s been hard to step out and ask if this is really the right thing for me. “It just seems so right,” he adds. “Everything we are doing just feels so good.”

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