Thanks to the unique focus of one innovative program, hundreds of CPS students at four high schools are getting a jumpstart on skills that could define their future careers.
The Law & Public Safety Academies (LPSAs), created through CPS’ Office of Pathways to College and Career, give students the opportunity to explore the legal field and the many opportunities open to them through law enforcement.
“We are training the city’s future lawyers and public safety officials,” said Sandra Irizarry, Program Coordinator. “Through our program, students have the opportunity to explore the fields of law, criminal justice, and corporate security.”
The four-year honors program has grown substantially over the past ten years, with thriving programs in place at Hirsch, Mather, Richards, and Wells High Schools. A fifth program is scheduled to be added this fall at Jones College Prep High School.
“There are approximately 20 students per LPSA class,” said Irizarry. “Beginning in freshmen year, they move together through the program as a cohort, so they become a very tight-knit group.”
During the program’s first three years, students spend one period per day in their LPSA classes, studying criminal, civil and constitutional law, as well as specialized topics such as criminology and forensics. Several LPSA teachers are attorneys themselves, which adds a real-life element to the knowledge they are working to convey. “My legal background gives me the confidence to know that I am teaching my students the analysis and concepts of the law correctly,” said Shelly Harris, a Business Law attorney who has taught for eight years in the LPSA at Richards High School. “I feel that my law school education aids me in helping the students analyze legal scenarios and potential legal outcomes in a professional way.”
During their first two years, LPSA students are given the opportunity to participate in mock trials, with freshmen exploring the complexities of criminal law while sophomores focus on civil litigation. In order to create an air of authenticity, both trials are held at Chicago courthouses and presided over by actual judges who generously volunteer their time to mentor LPSA students.
“The mock trials are very beneficial,” said Harris, “because students have the chance to practice public speaking while applying legal concepts and higher order thinking skills in a fun and challenging way.”
During their junior year, LPSA students are given the chance to engage in job shadowing during their school vacations. “Our Partnership Development Unit pairs students with lawyers and other legal professionals throughout Chicago,” said Sandra Irizarry. “This gives our students the chance to experience hands-on what these kinds of careers are like.”
The capstone of the LPSA experience comes during senior year, when students intern four afternoons per week with Chicago law firms and government/municipal agencies. “Many groups have partnered with CPS to create a meaningful internship experience for our students,” said Irizarry. “They are routinely placed at the Dirksen Federal Building, the Chicago Police Department, and numerous Chicago law firms.”
In addition to their legal courses and internships, students in the LPSAs are enrolled in honors-level English, Math, Science and History courses for the entirety of their high school careers. “It’s a rigorous curriculum,” said Irizarry, “but the students are very motivated. Over 85 percent go on to post-secondary education, and many earn scholarships based on their experiences with the LPSA’s.”
Whether or not they pursue legal careers, the LPSA’s give students an excellent knowledge of and exposure to the legal profession. “They develop critical thinking, debating, and presentation skills that will apply to any career,” said Patricia Mcavoy, who has taught in the LPSA at Mather High School for the past nine years. “And for many, the program creates in them a deep respect and love for the law.”
Odontuya Sumyatsooj, a senior at Mather, describes the LPSA experience as one of the highlights of her high school career. “It’s wonderful,” she said. “I love it. I’ve learned so much, and I’ve been able to do so many things, like participate in mock trials and have a senior year internship.”
Sumyatsooj is currently interning with a judge at the Dirksen Federal Building, working with law clerks to organize legal documents and create new case files. A native of Mongolia, Sumyatsooj came to the U.S. with her mother in 2006 and hopes one day to be an immigration lawyer. “I see so many people who need immigration help, and I want to be someone who can help them,” she said.
Studying law through the LPSA’s gives CPS students like Sumyatsooj an early advantage that can help carry them to the next level. “As both a lawyer and an educator, I can honestly say that the LPSA is a fantastic program,” said Shelly Harris. “Many of the attorneys who visit our students tell them that they would have loved to have a program like this when they were in high school. And I tell the students that by the time they finish their sophomore year, they will know much more about the law then I did on the day I started law school.”
For more information on CPS Law & Public Safety Academies, click here.