By Andrew Wong, CFCC Student Fellow 2012-2013
Last year, I volunteered as a tutor with CFCC’s Truancy Court Program (TCP) and it was a wonderful experience. I believe this is a great opportunity for all law students. Many of us come to law school with some vision to serve the public interest. Because law students are limited in their amount of free time, the one-hour weekly time commitment with TCP is manageable and worthwhile. In addition to tutoring students, law students can interact with school administrators, staff members from the Center of Families, Children, and the Courts (CFCC), and local judges and attorneys, who are all involved in the TCP with the goal to improve students’ attendance and behavior.
During my first month of law school, I received an e-mail from CFCC, which was looking for volunteers to assist with the Truancy Court Program. I attended a one-hour training at the Family Justice Building, a few blocks away from the University of Baltimore School of Law’s main building. A few weeks later, I began attending the weekly morning sessions at New Era Academy in Baltimore. I chose New Era because I did not have classes on Tuesday mornings, but I knew there was flexibility because other programs met on other days of the week. The weekly sessions took place in the school cafeteria and on some occasions, I sat with the judge when he met with individual students. It was interesting to learn the underlying reasons why students were absent from their classes. There were several reasons, including not being able to wake up because the student didn’t own a clock, not having the proper uniform, and simply not wanting to attend school. Regardless of the reasons, however, everyone around the table provided assistance and incentives to the students so they could improve their attendance and classroom behavior. There was always something positive that the judge would recognize for each student, and it was clearly important for the student to understand that. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but by the end of 10-week program, many of the students graduated from TCP. I think an important part of the success of the Truancy Court Program is the individualized attention given to each student, providing them with direction during the course of the program. Law students can help in this process by volunteering to tutor these students.
There are also other ways for law students to be involved with the Truancy Court Program. A UB law student can enroll in an experiential learning course called the CFCC Student Fellows Program and can participate as a law clerk in the Truancy Court Program at various local schools to assist the TCP judge in the weekly sessions. Student Fellows learn the concepts of therapeutic jurisprudence and preventive law and how they are incorporated into the Truancy Court Program. The 3-credit course is offered in the fall semester and offers opportunities to visit various courts, such as the Family Division of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, drug treatment court, and the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center.
I encourage all law students to take a look into volunteering with the Truancy Court Program and/or enrolling in the CFCC Student Fellows Program because the students and families in the community need our help.
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The main reason I decided to attend law school was to obtain knowledge that would allow me to serve my community. However, with such a heavy emphasis on grades in my first year, I lost track of that goal and became engulfed in my studies. Unfortunately, I did not learn details of the Truancy Court Program until my second year of law school when I began to participate in more activities. I wish I had known the great impact the Truancy Court program and the CFCC’s student fellows program would have on my law school experience. Both have helped to shape my interest in youth issues and caused me to rethink what career path I will take once I graduate. More students should take advantage of these practical, experiential activities. They cause one to think about real life issues and consider how they might use their law degree post graduation.