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Inside the 3L Year: Marshall-Brennan Practicum Brings Constitution to High School

As part of W&L’s innovative third-year curriculum, law students have the opportunity to participate in the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Law Literacy Practicum. The goal of the class is to educate young students in under-served high schools in order to foster more educated citizens who will better understand and exercise their rights. In the Q&A below, 3L Katherine Moss describes her participation with the program.

Katherine is from Normal, Illinois. She graduated from University of Southern California in 2009 with a B.A. in Philosophy. During law school, Katherine has focused exclusively on indigent criminal and capital defense. During her summers she interned at Southern Center for Human Rights and the Office of the Public Defender in Alexandria, Virginia. She currently works as a student attorney for both the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse Clinic and the Criminal Justice Clinic. She also serves as a Lead Articles Editor for the Washington and Lee Law Review. Katherine was recently awarded the prestigious E. Barrett Prettyman Fellowship, a two-year post-graduate criminal defense and teaching fellowship at Georgetown Law.

How does the program work?

Every week W&L 3Ls travel to Roanoke, Virginia to teach Constitutional Law to seniors at William Fleming High School. We are in charge of preparing our own curriculum and executing that curriculum in the classroom. Each student teacher instructs approximately twenty-five to thirty high school students. In addition to the teaching component, we engage in a weekly class at W&L to help learn the substantive law we are teaching, develop teaching skills, and address any challenges that may arise throughout the semester.

How did you prepare to participate in the program?

Each week I designed a detailed lesson plan, outlining the curriculum I wanted to teach. I also created handouts, worksheets, powerpoints, and quizzes. In the W&L Law class component, I worked with the professor and other student teachers to help refine my lesson plans.

Have you ever taught before? If not, what was this experience like?

This is my first time teaching. On my first day, I arrived knowing only to expect the unexpected. There was certainly a steep learning curve, but after the first few weeks, I felt more comfortable in the classroom. I loved teaching these students. They have brilliant ideas and ask intelligent questions. I left every class with a smile on my face.

What was one challenge you faced in the program?

It took a lot of effort to create lesson plans that would keep the students engaged. My focus throughout law school has always been indigent criminal defense. Because I am most familiar with criminal law––and because “cops and robbers” is way more interesting than the Commerce Clause––I focused my class on “street” law. I primarily taught the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments. We discussed police brutality, the school-to-prison pipeline, and racism in the criminal justice system. No doubt, these are difficult topics, but there is value in having that difficult conversation.

What was you favorite part of participating in the program?

I conducted a mock trial for the students. Volunteers from W&L Law played the roles of prosecutor, defense attorney, client, and witnesses. I played the judge – robe and all. The students served as our mock jurors, vigorously debating their positions. One panel of jurors reached a “not guilty” verdict, and the other a “guilty” verdict, sparking further uproar. After the bell rang, I enjoyed watching the students walk out of the room still engaged in a debate about the case.

What lessons or memories will you take with you from this experience?

Teaching has taught me so much, and not just about the substantive law. I understand the real time and preparation that go into creating a lesson plan. I learned to explain each concept in different ways because students have different learning styles. I started building skills to help manage a classroom. But most importantly, I was able to challenge students to learn, at a young age, some of the most important constitutional concepts that apply in their every-day lives.