By Kerry Hyatt Blomquist, Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence & 2013 IndyBar President
Senator Richard Lugar. Judy O’Bannon. Congressman Andy Jacobs. Judge Cynthia Ayers, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Eugene B. Glick, Sidney Eskenazi…
What do all of these people have in common?
They are all alumni of Shortridge Legal Magnet High School for Law and Public Policy. Although it has only been designated such since 2009, clearly these alums show that the school was cranking out leaders well before the actual name change. The story behind Shortridge is fascinating. It is the oldest high school in the State of Indiana dating back to 1861. The school was closed between 1981 and 2007 and was then completely revamped from a middle school to a magnet school for grades six through 12. This past spring, Shortridge graduated its first class since the spring of 1981. Last month was the first Homecoming dance in over 30 years. Apparently, platform shoes never had the chance to go out of style at Shortridge.
The school today is nothing short of inspired. As the Indianapolis Public Schools Magnet School for Law and Public Policy, Shortridge has been designed to be the chosen path for future lawyers, legislators, business leaders and policymakers from Indianapolis. There is a Moot Court Room in the newly renovated building, and students are discovering their inner public speaker as early as grade six. Student “prosecutors” and “defense attorneys” are currently handling juvenile truancy cases for all IPS schools at Shortridge, putting a unique twist on the concept of teen court.
I first began reading about the metamorphosis of Shortridge well over a year ago, coincidentally when I was planning the implementation of the IndyBar Strategic Plan goals for 2013. One such goal was to begin to engage local middle and high school students in the practice of law. Seems the stars were in alignment for the IndyBar-Shortridge collaboration in 2013, and the project needed only dedicated leadership.
Enter United States Bankruptcy Court Clerk and longtime IndyBar volunteer Patricia Marshall. I asked Pat to spearhead this collaboration well over a year ago, and frankly, the woman just took off. With the help of her Public Outreach Committee, Pat facilitated a collaboration that included not one but three chances for IndyBar members to have a direct impact on the students at Shortridge, who will very likely be the future of this legal community.
On May 2nd of this year, Shortridge hosted its inaugural Naturalization Ceremony, which, as you may know is a moving reminder of the unparalleled value of U.S. citizenship. The ceremony was sponsored in part by the IndyBar Public Outreach Committee and graciously orchestrated and presided over by U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson and her wonderful staff. For young students of our legal system to be able to see, hear and indeed participate in a ceremony that underlines the value of our democracy is a pretty spectacular thing, and a reminder that what we often take for granted, many, many aspire to.
On June 4th of this year during Law Week, the IndyBar hosted a “Mentoring Day” by allowing Shortridge 8th grade honor students a chance to “shadow” an IndyBar member for part of their day. All transportation challenges aside, it was a great opportunity for these future lawyers to see, and yes I am overstating, just how the magic is done. A sincere thank you goes to the 20 to 25 IndyBar members who stepped up for this and showed their student a good time. Every comment I received was glowing, and nothing beats the life lesson of observation.
Finally, just last month and with the help of Public Outreach Committee members Beth White, Marion County Clerk, and Joan Champagne from White and Champagne, the IndyBar conducted a voter information program geared specifically to Shortridge 8th graders. The committee modified the existing “YVote!” program to help that class learn about the voting process and to facilitate their election of an 8th grade class representative on the Shortridge student council. From “declaring their candidacy” to campaigning and lobbying to the mandating of IDs before they could vote, these kids saw and experienced it all. Not to sounds like an advertisement for Visa, but simply: PRICELESS.
I’ve been parenting for a while now; my oldest just left his teens and I have one still solidly entrenched there. I, like many other contemporary parents, have at times struggled to remain cautiously optimistic about the future of this generation that at times seems to know more about Gandalf’s blood type than our system of checks and balances. But this new collaboration between the IndyBar and Shortridge Magnet School for Law and Public Policy is a bold reminder that as stewards of this profession and indeed this system of justice, we can, should and must take some responsibility in passing on those reigns. Well done, gang.