Baylor Law School Earns WISD Golden Apple Award

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Students from Sul Ross Elementary, Baylor Law School's adopt-a-school partner, visited the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center in December.
June 6, 2008

By Colin Powell, Baylor Law School

Baylor Law School has another golden award to add to its already glimmering trophy case of mock trial, moot court and client counseling championships. This particular award, however, is not the result of the students' savvy in the courtroom but of their service to the Waco community.

For several years, Baylor Law School has teamed with Sul Ross Elementary School as a part of the Waco Independent School District's Adopt-a-School program. At the district's Partners in Education banquet in May, the Law School received the "Golden Apple Award" for the unique experiences it provided to the students at Sul Ross, an inner-city school across from the Baylor campus.

"The Golden Apple is awarded for specific experiences or projects between partners," said Sarah Collins, the Adopt-a-School program's partnership specialist. "With the Law School, Sul Ross students were able to learn about a career and educational path they would not normally be exposed to."

The Law School's relationship with Sul Ross Elementary dates back several years, but students and faculty have stepped up their support in the last year, said Professor Elizabeth Miller, the Law School's coordinator for the program.

Through the efforts of the Student Bar Association, the Law School raised money throughout the year for uniforms and school supplies. They also helped fund and construct a "green classroom" at the school that contains a pond and allows the students to have hands-on experiences with different natural habitats.

The Christmas season provided Law School students other opportunities to reach out to the kids at Sul Ross. At an event sponsored by the Women's Legal Society, Santa Claus made an appearance for the students, handing out gifts and spreading Christmas cheer. Later, the Sul Ross choir made a performing tour of the Baylor campus, including stops at Armstrong Browning Library and the Law School student lounge, where they ate a festive lunch and sang holiday songs.

"The kids love to perform," said Judith Hersh, former Baylor lawyer and current counselor at Sul Ross. "It has just been great," Hersh added of the support Baylor students and faculty offer.

On June 2, the school year at Sul Ross ended with a schoolyard bash of epic proportions. Dubbed a "Partnership Celebration," the event involved not only all of Sul Ross's Adopt-a-School partners but its entire student population. The children slipped and slid through inflatable water slides, played games like "duck-duck-goose" complete with water guns and giant sponges, and enjoyed a picnic lunch on the school grounds.

Sul Ross principal Debbie Sims said the school wanted to find a different way to celebrate the end of school, and decided to honor its partners by inviting them to participate.

Sims sees the eyes of her students opening as they continue to interact with Baylor.

"Sometimes these kids walk by the buildings across the street and don't really know what they are for," she said. Thanks to the Law School, though, many students already have aspirations for college and beyond.

"We have at least one who says she wants to be a lawyer," reported Sims.

The benefits of the Law School's partnership with Sul Ross are far reaching and extremely positive. Student Bar Association President Jolie McCuistion believes that working with kids in the community adds perspective to the Law School experience.

"Law students benefit from this partnership because it keeps them in touch with reality and the more important things in life," she said.

According to Miller, working with Sul Ross "provides law students the opportunity to have contact with the community and interact with students." She added that in return "the Sul Ross students benefit tremendously from their exposure to the Baylor students."

"It is important that the community of the law promotes service and volunteerism," concluded Miller. "Students find getting involved very satisfying, and many are surprised at how well they relate to the kids they help."

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