Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Law and Spanish Community Service Learning

Read the letter from a former AmeriCorps worker and notice how the tasks he/she describes overlap with the kinds of work that our Spanish CSL students do at the Refugee Center and at La Línea.
by Ann Abbott

[Scroll down to see an update.]

I have been thinking a lot lately about Spanish for the Professions, Languages for Specific Purposes and where they fit in our Spanish curriculum. There's a lot to consider:
  • Student interest.
  • Faculty acceptance/resistance.
  • Our instructional capacity.
  • A model that is uniquely "Illinois."
Several Spanish students who are also preparing for jobs in the health professions have begun organizing and making their voices heard. They want a medical Spanish course!

But I also know that we have many students who are thinking that law school could be in their future. I don't want us to build a medical Spanish course just because those students are the loudest. (Although, of course, I like that they are making their wishes heard!) We need to think "big picture" and design a curriculum for students who will be going on to any number of professions and probably changing professions over the course of their lives, too.

So it was interesting to me to have a telephone conversation the other day with someone who is looking at one of my former students for an Americorps job. The former student whom they would like to hire is an excellent candidate because of her personal qualities and a combination of experiences that she has had during college. But, she's also attractive to this organization because she has experience from her community service learning (CSL) courses working with Spanish-speaking clients doing exactly the kind of work they do. That is a powerful testimony to the important pre-professional training students receive in our Spanish CSL courses.

In other words, 

Even though "Spanish in the Community" isn't a "Legal Spanish" course, people who work in the legal world value students' service learning experiences.

This should give us reason to think deeply about the overlap between Spanish for the Professions and CSL. We should also think about how to help students understand that their CSL course can be a "Legal Spanish," "Medical Spanish" or "Business Spanish" course by the kinds of tasks they do in the community, even if that isn't the title of the course.

Having said all this, I'd like to share more information about this particular AmeriCorps opportunity in the hopes that any former Spanish CSL student will consider applying. This particular job is advertised for this year, but even in the future students should look into this opportunity.

In the email, Mr. Pisha sent me more information (but I wasn't able to post the pdfs), and he wrote: 
Applicants are encouraged to contact me directly first, though they will have to go through the Americorps program directly to apply. Best wishes, Schuyler Pisha, Esq.Legal Director - Immigration Law ProgramsCatholic Social Services1600 Bay St.Fall River, MA 02724(508) 674-4681

Massachusetts Legal Assistance for Self-Sufficiency Program
Member Position Description

Position:                    AmeriCorps Legal Advocate
Reports To:               Partner Site Supervisor and/or Designee
Coordinates With:    All employees engaged by the Partner Site Legal Aid Organization
including attorneys, paralegals, secretaries, and volunteers on site, and the MLASSP AmeriCorps program staff.

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance for Self-Sufficiency Program (MLASSP) is a full-time AmeriCorps State program funded through the Corporation for National and Community Service and administered through the Massachusetts Service Alliance.  MLASSP contracts with 28 AmeriCorps volunteer legal advocates (members) to provide legal assistance in civil matters to eligible low-income clients through our partner Legal Aid Organizations (partner sites).  Members serve at the partner legal services organization under the direct supervision of a legal professional (supervisor).  In other words, the AmeriCorps members’ year of service is performed for MLASSP through the partner site legal aid organizations. In AmeriCorps terms MLASSP is a “scattered site” program in which members serve in low-income communities throughout Massachusetts but come together as an AmeriCorps team to meet common performance objectives through participation in MLASSP AmeriCorps activities. 

The following are guidelines of the primary duties of the AmeriCorps members. MLASSP is funded through AmeriCorps to address the national priority of housing assistance. Each member shall have his or her own specific service goals determined individually with his or her supervisor and written in his or her individual Service Plan.  Should the member serve at a partner site that does not routinely do intakes, the site supervisor will make every effort to provide the member with the opportunity to experience the intake process.  AmeriCorps members shall also fulfill additional, secondary duties assigned to them by their supervisor and actively engage in MLASSP AmeriCorps as outlined below and in the member and partner contract. 

  1. Assist Partner Site Attorneys in interviewing at least ninety (90) potential clients for legal assistance in civil matters by screening clients, utilizing those methods of intake and case management prescribed by the partner, including entry into office legal software as needed 
  1. Assist legal professionals in providing counsel or brief service to at least seventy-five (75) lower priority civil cases including housing assistance to economically disadvantaged individuals.  Included in these cases, members will provide the resources needed to access appropriate housing for at least fourteen (14) economically disadvantaged individuals, including homeless individuals, elders, and/or veterans.
  1. Assist Partner attorneys in preparation and representation of at least thirty (30) high priority civil cases as indicated by the site supervisor and/or designee. Included in these cases, members will provide eighteen (18) economically disadvantaged individuals, including homeless individuals, elders, and/or veterans, the assistance they require to transition into or be maintained in safe, healthy, affordable housing. 
  2. Coordinate with and assist other Partner staff to provide high quality legal assistance to clients, including coordination of program-wide activities, for example, community legal education.
  3. Develop and maintain a working knowledge of community needs, desires, and resources   and establish meaningful working ties with community groups of and for the poor in order to assist them in realizing their legal rights and to make them aware of the services the Partner offers.  Utilize this knowledge to assist in expanding the range of services available to clients.
  4. Participate in community legal education activities, including designing pamphlets and making presentations to groups in the community.  Assist in the development and delivery of clinics for clients as needed.
  5. Coordinate at least one local or regional community outreach event that addresses a pressing civil issue in the community, thus allowing the partner site to expand its ability to provide much needed services. 
  6. Recruit, train, support, and manage five (5) volunteers who will serve approximately twenty hours (20) each to further the outreach of the partner site.
  7. Develop and improve competence in working with those significant cultural groups that reside in the area of service.
  8. Negotiate on behalf of eligible clients with landlords, government agencies, utility companies and others as necessary.
  9. Undergo ninety (90) hours of directly supervised client activities by a legal professional.
  10. Complete monthly reflective narratives, end-of-year written essay and exiting paperwork, and attend all MLASSP and AmeriCorps specified events.
  11. Improve skills and knowledge by regularly reading relevant legal materials and engaging in legal activities that the Member has performed few times previously or not at all.  Request training when needed.  Conduct legal research.  Assist in the preparation of reports on issues affecting low-income people.
  12. Develop working relationships with social service and governmental agencies offering services to clients.
  13. Maintain accurate and complete files, including complete recording of client and volunteer activities for statistical purposes.  Timely prepare and file such reports including weekly timesheets, monthly narratives, exiting paperwork and all others as are required by the AmeriCorps program policies and/or the Partner’s policies.
  14. Participate in Partner program activities, including case review, unit meetings, and staff meetings.  Represent partner site in statewide activities such as coalitions and statewide trainings.
  15. Use generally any available language skill, which she or he possesses to assist clients; however, translation activities shall be commensurate with the member's knowledge and experience and with the demands of his/her other activities and with the approval of the legal supervisor.
  16. Use best efforts to develop proficiency in the job-related software used by the Partner.

Update: Here's a message from the student.
"I did hear back from the AmeriCorps position in Massachusetts and have accepted that position. I am very excited, as this was my first choice for next year (and I kind of fell behind on many other applications myself!). I'm not sure what he told you about the position, but I will be working in an office that does immigration law, so I'm very excited to take some of the experiences from your class with me to that new environment and see how it suits me.
Schuyler Pisha actually emailed me to extend the offer the day that he spoke with you and said that you provided a glowing recommendation, so I did want to thank you so much for your role in helping me get this position. I also spoke extensively about my experience with La Linea in my interview, so again, thank you; I am so grateful to you and for your class for providing me with the experience that I needed to get this position. I'm still not sure where I'm going long term, but the experience has been very important for me in thinking about ways that I can take my education and passions forward into a workplace and career."

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