Carolyn and Jimmy are JD Candidates at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and former Executive Directors of the Youth Education Project.
The Youth Education Project (YEP) has been the most fulfilling activity of our law school careers. The program is designed to provide local high school students with a base-level understanding of the legal system and oral advocacy, which culminates into students participating in a Moot Court Competition, held at Penn Law every year. The Moot Court Competition, without failure, is one of the most enjoyable days of the year, for the students, for our volunteers, and for the teachers whom welcome our volunteers into their classrooms each week.
The curriculum that our volunteers teach first goes through some basic foundations of the legal system, including the court system, how precedent works, and several fundamental constitutional protections. About midway through the year, the curriculum shifts gears to focus on a fact pattern which is used for the moot court competition.
The fact pattern is designed by the YEP board and changes each year. During our tenure, the fact pattern has focused on one of the following constitutional issues each year: freedom of religion (whether a mural of the Pope painted on a public school was protected); search and seizure (whether school officials searching a student in a questionable manner and under an ambiguous context was acceptable); and freedom of speech (whether or not rap lyrics constituted a “true threat” and whether a school’s action of punishing the student who wrote the lyric was permissible).
We both started volunteering with the program shortly after arriving at Penn Law, and each taught a class at Overbrook high school every Friday. One of the best parts about volunteering with YEP is becoming immersed in Philly. In fact, Overbrook is the alma mater of both Wilt Chamberlain and Will Smith, two local heroes and legends! Teaching students there was a privilege. During 2L and 3L, each of us served on the project’s board, and each of us had a chance to work as Executive Directors, shaping and guiding the project in the direction that we thought would be most beneficial for the high school students we serve and for the Penn Students who volunteer.
Over time, we established relationships with new high schools, recruited more volunteers, and added a new “first generation professional panel” and a “key note speaker” to our Moot Court Competition. We feel that one of the most rewarding experiences in volunteering with YEP (and with any pro bono group at Penn Law) is the chance to take initiative in leading an organization.
Working with our talented high schoolers on preparing their arguments and answering questions about the law is an incredibly rewarding opportunity. Every Friday when we taught, no matter how much work we had in our own lives, we left with smiles on our faces ready to approach our weekends. The teachers who welcome us into their classrooms at these schools are extraordinarily gracious and fun to be around. And oftentimes, we learn from the students just as they learn from us.
We will miss YEP. But we are confident that it is in great hands now and we look forward to keeping a finger on the pulse moving forward. For students considering opportunities to get involved in the community, we urge you to think about YEP!