Denver Bar Association
February 2009
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Stepping into the Classroom

by Christine McManus

See the invitation to fellow DBA members from DPS General Counsel John Kechriotis, page 13.

In a bold new initiative, DBA President Mark Fogg and the DBA Board of Trustees are issuing a call for 150-200 attorneys to step up and step in to the classrooms of Denver Public Schools.

In solidarity with recent DPS reform efforts, Fogg’s vision is this: attorneys, paralegals, magistrates and judges will volunteer to go into classrooms for two school days per year as substitute teachers.

DPS needs us. The district requires about 400 substitute teachers per day. Unfortunately, there are many days on which the district is in a critical situation being unable to find enough substitute teachers. The district is especially short on higher-degreed substitute teachers.

Because some teacher absences are planned, DBA volunteer substitute teachers can schedule their day in the classroom ahead of time. Volunteers can also request a specific subject or grade level K-12. For those who need it, a short training session is available.

Once in the classroom, substitutes from the legal community are invited to introduce themselves and lead a discussion on any appropriate topics such as the Constitution, government, the legal profession, inspiring kids to go to college, etc. Then the volunteers can pick up on a lesson plan left by the teacher.

In a district where 66 percent come from poverty and 48 percent of ninth grade students won’t graduate, role models are needed to encourage and inspire.

Former DPS superintendent Michael Bennet, now Senator Bennet in Washington, D.C., and his likely replacement Tom Boasberg, publicly admit that our school system is failing a vast majority of 75,000 future citizens. DPS realizes it must try entirely new approaches or we all will face the societal consequences. Substitute teaching and role modeling is one approach we can help with.

National studies show that successful school reform is tied to broader community involvement, say Bennet and Kechriotis. This initiative is not only a response to Denver Public Schools’ plea for participation from the greater Denver community. (See Bennet’s editorial column in the Rocky Mountain News, published last spring.) This is an opportunity for legal professionals of all ages and backgrounds to roll up their sleeves for a day and chip in, with the side effect of improving the reputation of their profession.

The initiative is rooted firmly in the long-term friendly alliance between the Denver Bar and DPS. Denver Bar members are already on the right track. Every year the past several years, more and more DBA members are signing up to go into classrooms for Constitution Day, We the People, Mock Trials and court tours.

DBA Immediate Past President Elsa Martinez Tenreiro engages with students at Godmans Elementry School during Constitution Day, Sept. 12, 2008.

The attorneys who participate in these ongoing, DBA public legal education programs say they walk away with a deep sense of satisfaction and better insights into education reform today. Lawyers are natural teachers, says Fogg, and many lawyers’ second career choice would be to teach.

Fogg has full faith in Denver’s legal community. He’s placed his bets that fellow members will not ignore DPS’s urgent invitation to enter classrooms as role models. Your own personal triumphs and ability to encourage, your enthusiasm and passion for learning are worth far more than you may realize.

"We sincerely hope that you will accept the invitation by stepping into our classrooms," said Kechriotis. "We at DPS could not be more grateful that Denver’s attorneys are willing to engage themselves in our city’s biggest challenge — making the Denver Public Schools the best big-city school district in the country."

How do I step into the classroom?

Make one call, to DPS Legal Assistant Tiffany Lambalot at (720) 423-3398. She’ll process your application, obtain your bachelor degree transcript, organize fingerprinting and schedule an optional, brief training session. You’ll be able to pick a date in advance. A fee might be required, but at the time this went to press negotiations were underway to eliminate it for DBA members. Thanks for joining this DBA initiative!

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