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Camden Youth Learning U.S. Constitution from Rutgers-Camden Law Students
CAMDEN — Camden’s high school students easily recognize the large, bold letters that read “We the People” as the first three words of the U.S. Constitution. But how, exactly, does the document protect their daily freedoms?
Thanks to the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Program at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden, Camden teens now are gaining a broader understanding of the U.S. Constitution and its role in their everyday lives.
This semester, 15 Rutgers–Camden law students are teaching constitutional law at Camden High School, the Camden Center for Youth Development, Christus Lutheran Academy, LEAP Academy University High School, MetEast High School, and Woodrow Wilson High School.
Named for Thurgood Marshall and William J. Brennan Jr., two U.S. Supreme Court justices who championed individual rights, the program aims to make the U.S. Constitution come alive for Camden youth.
“Marshall-Brennan has been extremely impactful for our students,” says Paul Turkot, an advisor at MetEast High School. “Through the experience they have learned how constitutional law works in the real world. The material has been presented in a relevant and engaging manner that challenges our students to reflect on how laws are carried out in their community.”
Camden’s high schoolers have raised thoughtful questions about constitutional rights such as, “Can a principal search my locker?” and “Can I be punished for wearing clothing that makes a controversial statement?”
The Marshall-Brennan program peels back the layers of the constitution to allow the students to discover the answers.
“When I first started teaching, I noticed that the students’ gut reactions tended to inform their opinions about what the Constitution allows,” says Andrew Dodemaide of Haddonfield, a Rutgers–Camden law student teaching at Woodrow Wilson High School. “However, over time they have really begun to impress me with their ability to apply facts and law in creative ways to justify their conclusions.”
Deyond Weal, a sophomore at MetEast High School, says the Marshall-Brennan program has been a valuable learning experience.
“We have been taught the First Amendment, freedom of speech, and when and where it can be protected,” Weal says. “It is essential, in these times, for citizens to know what their rights are and how to protect them.”
Most recently, the high school students have been learning about probable cause and a person’s Fourth Amendment rights.
“We’ve learned how to deal with different cases and we also did mock trials,” says Emily Pietri, a sophomore at MetEast High School. “My time at Marshall-Brennan has been extremely interesting and informational.”
Rutgers–Camden’s Marshall-Brennan fellows have served not only as teachers, but also as role models.
For example, law student Abraham Tran, of East Brunswick, was instrumental in inaugurating a Constitution Day program that sent several Rutgers–Camden law students into elementary school classrooms to teach a lesson about the Fourth Amendment last fall. Rutgers–Camden law student Stefan Erwin, of Maplewood, is teaching at MetEast High School and recently established the Camden Agricultural Coalition, a community garden on Danehower Street.
Jill Friedman, director of pro bono and public interest programs at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden and co-director of the Marshall-Brennan Project, says the program is empowering the high school students to understand that the law can be a positive force
“We are hopeful that this palpable connection to the law will help Camden kids envision themselves as professionals, and may spark them to prepare for careers in the law,” Freidman says.
This semester, the Rutgers–Camden even opened its own doors for the program, as one of the Marshall-Brennan high school classes met at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden twice a week.
“Most importantly, Marshall-Brennan has stimulated them to think about law and how it works,” Turkot says. “Several of our students have expressed interest in pursuing a legal career as a result of the class.”
Media Contact: Ed Moorhouse