Bellefonte Area class teams with Penn State law school

Bellefonte Area School District  |  Posted on

By partnering this year with Penn State Law, social studies teacher Matt Martin is taking a different approach to a government class he regularly teaches at Bellefonte Area High School. It’s an opportunity that allows Martin’s 56 students to learn about curriculum they normally would have learned in class, but through the eyes of law students studying at Penn State.

“The mission (is) to network with Penn State Law School and give our kids a hands-on, interactive experience that is really going to affect their lives,” Martin said. “We thought it was a good opportunity to see them work with law students and respond to law students rather than with teachers because they present a different perspective and expertise.”

Using resources and law student instructors from the Street Law Program at Penn State, high school students in the government class will learn how law, policy and citizenship relate to everyday life. The Street Law Program is used to create opportunity for students to better understand the law and democratic process – though the use of simulations, mock trials, classroom discussions and more.

The term “street law” is colloquially used to explain the process where law students teach youth about the law. It stems from an initiative established in 1972 with the Georgetown University Law Center and the public school system in Washington, D.C.

Martin said Penn State Law rolled out their program last year with the State College Area School District. Looking to expand, Penn State Law Associate Dean Keith Elkin reached out to Martin in November to see if he would be interested in bringing the initiative to Bellefonte.

“They (the students) seem to be really encouraged by it,” Martin said.

The mission is to help students develop practical law-related knowledge to help foster decision-making, problem-solving and more.

“Personally, I really don’t know that much about law and government, and I’m really hoping that I get to learn more from them about how things work in the system,” senior Elizabeth Giacobe said. “Obviously, I’ll learn a lot from the books in government class, but with them (the law students) it’s like learning directly from what’s happening in the world now and how it’s going to affect what I’m going to do later in life.”

In Martin’s government class, students generally first learn about the foundations of government and practical applications with the Constitution and how that affects people’s lives, including their own; and then learn about the branches of government and street law.