Law students’ elbow grease makes a big impact

2019 Bowen School of Law student service project at Booker T. Washington Elementary School Aug. 10

Incoming students at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law began their first fall semester on Aug. 10 with a day of public service at Booker T. Washington Elementary School on South Main Street in Little Rock. 

After a welcome from law school administration, 161 students converged on Washington’s campus in record-breaking rain. Little Rock received 3.87 inches of rain, beating a record that had stood since 1915.

Through it all, the students, their group leaders, and Bowen Law School staff completed projects both inside and outside the elementary school.

“We did an ambitious project last year at Rockefeller Elementary,” Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Rejena Grotjohn said. “This year was even larger. Rebecca Nugent, our student affairs program manager, put a lot of time, effort, and energy into ensuring everything ran as smoothly as possible.”

Students worked in teams under the supervision and encouragement of upper-level law students. It was a chance to get acquainted, build support networks, and learn Bowen Law School’s core values first-hand.

“Bowen’s core values are access to justice, public service, and professionalism,” Bowen Dean Theresa Beiner said. “That’s applicable not only in the legal profession, but in teaching students to see a need in their own neighborhoods and know it’s possible to fill those needs. Today, it’s paint and gravel. In the future, it may be representing a client pro bono, drafting legislation, or lobbying for policy changes.”

Once the lightning stopped, students in rain gear went to work reclaiming an existing arboretum, contributed by former principal Katherine Snyder, on the north side of the campus by trimming trees and laying a gravel pathway to allow easier access.

In the playground, students planted a tree to honor Snyder, who recently retired after 30 years at the elementary school. The tree was donated by Bemis Tree Farm in Little Rock.

In addition, Bowen Law School students created a new seating area.

“The school said they had a shaded area under an awning, but nowhere to sit if they wanted to have outdoor activities,”  Kristen Minton, director of academic support and bar success, said.

Using tires donated by Minton’s father and child-safe paint and metal benches donated by Bowen’s Student Bar Association, students created a bright spot for students and staff to enjoy the outdoors.

“The new class/reading area under the awning is a big hit,” Assistant Principal Hazel Harris said. “Many students spend their recess time congregating there.”

Teams of Bowen Law School students also refreshed the paint on “peace paths” at every entrance to the elementary school.

“The peace paths encourage students to take a moment to think before they act, to express their anger and frustrations in a respectable manner using effective language, and to repair harm inflicted, intentionally or unintentionally, on others,” Harris said. “The peace paths correlate with our move toward restorative justice.”

Bowen Law School students were just as busy inside the building, and the school’s media center was the hub of activity.

This year, incoming law students participated in a book drive conducted by the Student Bar Association. New students were encouraged, through some friendly competition, to bring new books suitable for children in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. The 161 incoming students collected almost 1,200 books. They stuffed over 400 sacks, one for each elementary student, with a book, eraser, stickers, and a personal note of encouragement from a law school student.

Harris said the students will receive their books during a special presentation.

“I cannot wait to see their expressions when they open their book bags,” Harris said. “This will be an amazing treat for our students. The handwritten note just makes it even more special.”

The remaining books will be available in the Booker T. Washington Elementary School library.

On the other side of the media center, law students worked in groups to create colorful origami butterflies that were then used to decorate an encouraging bulletin board in the main entry hall. The message “Until you spread your wings you’ll have no idea how far you can fly” welcomed elementary students back to school.

Down another hallway, a group of students worked on their math and art skills by painting a colorful fraction mural to help students visualize measurements.

“The fraction wall is not only beautiful, but it provides a bigger than life view of how fractions relate to each other,” Harris said. “On several occasions, I have walked by and noticed students studying the wall.”

Some students found ways to assist individual teachers. A group helped teacher Stephany Fields get her classroom ready for students.

“It was going to take me most of the day to get this finished,” Fields said. “This group accomplished many of my tasks in under an hour.”

“You would be amazed at the impact just a small word of encouragement has on a child,” Harris said. “It may seem small at the time, but the law students’ sacrifice of their time and the wonderful acts of kindness they extended are going to mean the world to our students.”

The event made a lasting impression on Bowen Law School students, as well. By the time they sat down for a barbecue lunch, they’d begun bonding with classmates.

“None of us got here on our own. We’ve all had people in our lives who valued our education and the opportunities it creates for us,” Charles Case, an incoming law student, said. “I think this was a chance for us to help someone else feel the same way about their education. We got a little wet, but what a great way to get to know some of our new classmates here at Bowen.”

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