A group of Anacostia High School students got an unusual chance to talk law with members of a prestigious Washington law firm and inspect its operation first hand last week during the initial session of a new legal education program.
At the Watergate complex headquarters of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Kampelman, the Anacostia seniors who have been enrolled in a course called "Street Law," heard encouraging words about their futures from R. Sargent Shriver, the 1972 Democratic vice-presidential candidate, who is a partner in the firm.
The firm was the first to participate in the introduction of Street Law students to working law offices, a program cosponsored by the National Institute for Citizen's Education in Law and the Young Lawyer Section of the D.C. Bar Association.
The students have studied criminal, consumer, family and housing law as well as individual rights for the past year. The law firm visit was intended to enhance their classroom studies. Eventually, 18 area firms are expected to participate in the program, according to Mackie Finnerty, head of the Young Lawyer section.
"We all know what Anacostia has been in the past, but the question is what is it going to be tomorrow or in the next 10 years from now, and you are going to have a lot of say about that," Shriver told the group, which included some students from Wilson High School and the School Without Walls.
What the students had to say, in response to questions from Shriver about their schools, community and career aspirations, was that they are troubled about drug use around them, about overcrowding in their classes and about the idleness and apathy of some of their classmates.
Cherri Fletcher, 17, who has been accepted by two colleges and would like to go to Georgetown Law School, told of enrolling in a computer class that had no computer. She said she had to pretend to work on a keyboard replica until she eventually "lost interest" in the course.
Another student, Lisa Smith, said she wants to attend secretarial school but has been unable to take typing because the class is too crowded at her school.
"The students who hang around the school, all are not just from Anacostia, but others from neighboring schools," one student in the group said.
James Williams, 18, a former drop-out, said he once was among the students who "hung out" at the school but is back in school and hoping to go to college.
Anacostia has had Street Law classes since 1972, when the program was started by Jason Newman, then a part-time law professor at Georgetown University. Students earn one elective credit in their junior or senior years.
The current group, which has visited Lorton Reformatory and held a mock trial during the year of study, spent the past two months preparing questions, practicing courtroom arguments and opening and closing statements among themselves.
Fletcher said she "took the class because I needed a credit but when I got in there, it was more to it than I thought. It wasn't just something to . . . be in for the fun of it.
It is a popular course, according to one of the instructors, history and government teacher Alan Chin. The Street Law class "gives an overall view of the law so that student know their responsibilities and rights, along with learning some positive aspects of the law," he said.
Shriver stressed the importance of working hard towards a goal in order to get ahead. He also suggested working in the community, in campaigns, in voter registration and as volunteer legal helpers.
Touring the firm, the students met, among others, a legal secretary, Robin Duncan, a graduate of Coolidge High School, who described her duties and demonstrated use of a computer. She lamented not having gone to college and urged the students to do so.
Chin said the importance of the Street Law course is that "it gives the students insight into the other jobs which arelaw related besides being a lawyer, or a policeman or a crook and they already know the crooks."