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New Rochelle Bar Association’s “Lawyer in the Classroom” Program Receives Small Bar Association Award for Innovation

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New Rochelle Bar Association’s “Lawyer in the Classroom” Program Receives Small Bar Association Award for Innovation

February 25, 2015 - 19:06
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Hon. Jeffrey L. Levin, Vice President of the NRBA; Dr. Jeffrey Korostoff, retired Assistant Superintendent of Schools; Paula Johnson Kelly, President of the NRBA; Hon. Richard A. Sosis, member of the Board of Directors of the NRBA (l. to r.)

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NEW YORK, NY -- The New Rochelle Bar Association received an Innovation Award from the New York State Bar Association at an event held at the New York Hilton on January 30th.

"I am honored to be the President of an organization that takes time to consider not only the needs of its members, but to focus its programs on the needs of its community and the children who will be our future," said NRBA President Paula Johnson Kelly. "I had the privilege of participating in this great program last year and will cherish my memories of the young children, with their inquisitive questions and their bright and sometimes funny answers to the questions and situations presented.

Kelly said she and other volunteers got more out of the program than they put in.

"Giving back to our children not only helps the child learn, understand and absorb civil issues, it helps our community and it helps me as well," said Kelly.

Representatives of the New Rochelle Bar Association and The New Rochelle Board of Education were presented at a ceremony at the NY Hilton with the 2014 Bar Leaders Innovation Award for small bar associations in New York State, those with less than 500 members.

On hand from the NRBA was Richard Sosis, the originator of the program and Dr. Jeffrey Korostoff who served as the program's contact and facilitator at the District office.

Ronald Zezima, a local attorney and member of the New Rochelle Bar Association's Board of Directors, coordinates the program on behalf of the NRBA

“The enthusiastic response from both students and teachers to this program has been gratifying for everyone involved,” said Zezima. “Each of our lawyer-volunteers look forward to these very interactive sessions with our incredibly bright fifth graders."

The NRBA's “Lawyer in the Classroom” Program is offered in partnership with the New Rochelle Board of Education which introduces 4th and 5th grade public school students to elementary concepts of law, with the objective of teaching students the art of persuasive written and oral argument. The program provides interesting and challenging opportunities for NRBA members to volunteer their time in their local community, while interacting with local students, teachers and school administrators.

The Program was initially conceived as an annual or semi-annual visit by a local lawyer to each of the local public schools. An attorney would visit a classroom for an hour, describe to the students what she or he did on a daily basis, and then entertain questions from the students. The School District also invited other professionals from the community, such as policemen, firemen, and local politicians to visit the public schools.

Two years ago, NRBA officers requested a formal meeting with the New Rochelle School District administrators and proposed a formal, expanded program whereby attorneys would make regularly scheduled visits to each public elementary school and follow a curriculum which would introduce students to the structure and purpose of the legal system, the court system, and the role of the various members of the legal community in the system. Volunteers were recruited from the NRBA membership. The lawyer/volunteers reviewed an online program called I-Civics, from the American Bar Association as a method of teaching elementary concepts of government and law at the elementary school level. The school administrators received the proposal with great enthusiasm, designating it an “enrichment program” which would benefit the school system at absolutely no cost.

At the end of the school year, groups of students were taken to the New Rochelle City Court where they spent the morning observing proceedings in the courtroom. Each of the individuals in the courtroom, including the Judge, Court Officers, District Attorney, and other attorneys described their respective roles and then answered students’ questions. Now in its third year, this “enrichment program” provides elementary public school students with a unique opportunity to learn about the legal system and to interact with judges and lawyers, and it presents a unique opportunity for Bar Association attorneys to contribute to the local community in a very positive and meaningful way.

Bar Leaders Innovation Awards for city, county, ethnic, minority, special purpose, specialty and women’s bar associations in New York State recognize how bar associations adapt to the needs of their members and the community at large by introducing new programs, ideas and methodologies that benefit everyone involved.