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> A volunteer's experience of Lawyers in Schools Tuesday, 26th November 2013

Before my first session at the Heathland School, I felt the usual anticipation of doing something different.  I had various fears including; how will they engage; will I be able to hold their interest; how do I remember all of the points raised in training; will the students be interested enough to want to talk about the stuff I find fascinating?

In my anticipation, I and a couple of other volunteers arrived way too early.  However, sitting waiting at reception gave me a fascinating insight into what goes on behind the scenes to provide an effective learning environment within a school.  The staff is completely engaged in looking after the students and providing a challenging and stimulating place to absorb information and turn it into knowledge.  My own memories of school are so distant, but I don't remember this brightness and focus on individual and team bests.  It must have been there, but my overall impression of this school is the clear understanding of students’ behaviour, and an acknowledgement of each person's role in how to make them thrive.  The teacher is keen and welcoming, the reception team calmly efficient.  The session timing is precise; all students know where they should be.

We are introduced to our students and we perform the initial dance of how to pronounce each other's names and establish common areas of interest.  We find out why they are here and what they hope to get out of it.  Both sides are on our best behaviour and full of mutual curiosity.

Each student has various goals for the sessions; gain career direction, consider what options to take, what is law all about.  They are all curious about the career path to become a lawyer and what kind of things may help them decide their own future.

During the first session we learn how to tease out their responses.  It is a challenge to make sure we, as volunteers, work effectively together when we may not have worked together before.  We want to encourage students to talk so I make a conscious effort to take a back seat.  We want to draw out the quiet ones without stifling naturally outgoing students.  There are clear signals of who is passionately involved in the subject compared to others who are unsure or who are there because it looks good on their CV and therefore may need more encouragement to really engage with the topic.

By the second session, there are already signs that originally, reluctant students are becoming more interested and beginning to engage.  It is rewarding to see these students, who were initially so unsure, come out of their shells and start using their own reasoning to support answers in their own way.  Even if students have no previous knowledge, they are pulled in by the relevance of the material, applying it to their own situations and experiences. 

I found it interesting to see how the case study material leads us through the set of legal principles to build a framework within which students can see how their overall rights are established in law.  After the Consumer Law module, students commented that the sessions were helping them gain life skills, for example not getting angry and understanding they have the same rights as an adult when they want to return something and so they need to be assertive about claiming those rights. One of our students even commented that they would like more regular sessions to get to grips with each topic (our sessions are held every 3 weeks). 

My experience as a volunteer has been incredibly rewarding and hearing that at least one student in our group will miss having the sessions until we resume in February justifies rescheduling my working day and even foregoing a speaking slot at a conference to be at the session.

An additional benefit is that participating gives me a chance to interact with a colleague and even get some work done, as we can chat before the start of the session.  Participating in Lawyers in Schools has also refreshed my understanding of areas of law I don't usually spend much time on.  It’s even given me another way to connect with my daughter.  I am keen to get an inside view on what a student might think, so I discuss the material with my own teenager.  She gains knowledge and it gives me a chance to talk though issues with her and get her views.

Lawyers in Schools is brilliant at making me feel useful in a completely different environment to my normal work!