Wednesday, November 24, 2010

YLS Clinic Students Help With Promise to New Haven College Hopefuls

When New Haven Mayor John DeStefano announced the New Haven Promise program on Nov. 9, guaranteeing college scholarships for eligible New Haven students who meet certain standards, it had special meaning to the Yale University community since Yale is a major partner in Promise. The rollout also had special meaning to members of the Law School community, particularly several students in the Community and Economic Development Clinic (CED) who played a key role in the program’s implementation and who were seated in the audience that Tuesday morning.

“It was incredible to see the community’s reaction,” said Lindsey Luebchow ’11. “There was a level of excitement and enthusiasm—from parents, students, teachers, and education reformers—that we had not yet experienced after a semester of working in the trenches on the details of the program.

Luebchow, Michael Love ’12, Stephanie Lee ’12, Kathryn Bradley ’12, and Cheryl-Lyn Bentley ’11, together with Lydia Gensheimer of the School of Management, are part of CED’s non-litigation school reform group, which engages students in helping to reform education through means other than the courts.

Their involvement in Promise began in September, following a meeting last spring between Dean Robert Post '77 and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano at which the mayor outlined plans for New Haven Promise and invited Law School participation. Dean Post brought the idea to CED Co-Director Robin Golden ’98, who gave it the thumbs-up.

“It was a great opportunity to provide students with exposure and experience in an area of school reform other than litigation,” said Golden. “The wheels of justice move slowly and the traditional remedies within the purview of courts are not precise enough to address the barriers to school reform. This project group allows students to explore other ways to help solve one of our country’s most intractable problems—closing the achievement gap.”

The students focused on the legal aspects of setting up New Haven Promise. They represented the City of New Haven in negotiations with Yale and the two other partners—the New Haven Board of Education and The Community Fund of Greater New Haven—to establish and fund the program. And they helped draft and negotiate other legal documents, including bylaws for New Haven Promise and its governing board of directors, and a lease agreement to establish a New Haven Promise office.

“This was a great project because it allowed the students to work through a complex transaction, while understanding the implications of contract principles in helping to formulate an important public/private partnership,” said Clinical Professor of Law Bob Solomon, who co-directs the clinic with Golden.

The students also participated in non-legal aspects of the effort, including engaging a database programmer, establishing the rules for program eligibility, creating forms and materials, and staffing the launch. And because of their deep understanding of how the program works, they are meeting directly with parents at local schools to answer questions and talk about what New Haven Promise means for their children.

“With the recent recession, I know that college has become an even greater burden for students and their families,” said Lee. “I am sincerely excited by the prospect that New Haven Promise will diminish this burden and support students in achieving their college and future aspirations.”

The students say they’ll continue working with the program and its staff, offering legal assistance as the program tracks and funds its first class of graduates. They all expressed great satisfaction at being involved in a cutting-edge school reform program that will benefit the entire New Haven community and so many of its young people.

“I felt enormously proud and honored to have been a part of its development,” said Love. “Moreover, as someone who has been very focused on education policy ever since my freshman year of college, I truly believe that New Haven Promise is a step in the right direction. I cannot think of a more valuable or more noble investment than in the education of our children.