By Emilie F. Blitzer, CFCC Student Fellow (2018-2019)
Being a law student is a totally different experience from any other educational experience. Most of law school is very methodical and competitive. I am a graduating third year student, and my concentration is Family Law. I have tried to have the most holistic experience I could while attending the University of Baltimore School of Law. I have participated in clinics, mediations, internships, and the Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Court’s (CFCC) Student Fellows Program.
The Student Fellows Program has been a very different part of my law school experience. I could not have gained the same sort of hands-on experience through any clinic. This program has not been about litigious advocacy, but rather about community and helping others. From taking part in restorative practices for middle and high school students participating in the Truancy Court Program, to researching the poverty and youth homelessness of Baltimore City and the United States, I have been able to see, learn, and help with the program’s focus on helping youth thrive.
As part of the Student Fellows Program, I took a trip to the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center, where I was able to tour the detention center, which I was admittedly nervous to see. I was pleasantly surprised by what I actually saw. I saw a clean, well-organized, structured, and positive facility. I met those charged with the care and well-being of the juveniles, and it was obvious that the youth have adults supporting them and wanting them to succeed. The administrators of the facility were serious but also open and thorough and passionate about the work they do every day.
This semester, I have had the pleasure of working with CFCC staff and Student Fellows to support CFCC’s 11th Annual Urban Child Symposium, which focused on homelessness and its impact on urban youth. My role was to conduct research and create data charts that map out homeless populations not only in Baltimore City and Maryland, but also the entire nation. Through this process I was able to see how many people, including children, are affected by homelessness in the United States. Throughout the semester, and as my data set grew and changed, I realized two things. First, far too many individuals, families, children, and veterans experience homelessness on any given day or night in the United States. Second, I learned that the numbers of homeless youth typically quoted are an underrepresentation of the true number of homeless youth in the United States because of varying definitions of homelessness and the inability to know exactly who is homeless at any given time. I have been able to understand and have been affected by how many people do not know where they will lay their head at night or have a hot meal. While I have also seen and tried to help those in need, I have been enlightened as to how much more effort must be put forth to quantify and rectify the current numbers of homeless youth just in Maryland alone.
I have seen that laws can really help our communities do better. For example, the McKinney-Vento Act requires mandatory counts of homeless student populations at every public school in the United States. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (McKinney-Vento) is a federal law that requires each state to ensure that each homeless child or child of a homeless individual has access to the same education as other children, including public preschool programs. McKinney-Vento is intended to guarantee homeless children and youth access to education and other services that will allow them to meet the same student academic achievement standards to which all students in the state are held. During the summer 2001, the National Center for Homeless Education, along with SERVE, an organization that provides research and evaluation services, convened a work group of state coordinators, local coordinators, representatives of national organizations, program evaluation specialists, and U.S. Department of Education staff. The group developed quality outcome standards and indicators for McKinney-Vento programs. SERVE Evaluation Program staff led the group through a process to develop indicators based on discussions of effective programs and practices that result in increased school enrollment, attendance, and achievement of homeless children and youth.
My research for the Urban Child Symposium: Housing and the Urban Child: Exploring the Landscape allowed me to see this kind of law being created, implemented, augmented, reinvented, and reinforced, and how these laws can accomplish good over time. I have seen how law, public policy, and morality can interconnect and create change. Through interdisciplinary cooperation and a lot of real concern, an astounding amount of good has begun to make change for students.
This is just small peek into the insights I have gained since participating in the CFCC Student Fellows Program.