Harris, Roth Receive Skadden and Independence Foundation Fellowships
Two third-year University of Virginia Law School students have been named recipients of prestigious, nationally competitive public service law fellowships.
As a Skadden Fellow, Jeree Harris will work with the Legal Aid Justice Center’s JustChildren Program to help ensure the education rights of incarcerated youth in central Virginia as they transition out of detention centers. Hallam Roth received an Independence Foundation Fellowship to protect the education rights of children in foster care in Philadelphia.
Both fellowships provide a full salary to recipients, with the understanding that the fellowship will be renewed for a second year.
“I will be directly representing youth [who] are incarcerated in the juvenile correction centers on their educational issues,” said Harris, who developed the Youth Entry to Re-entry Project as part of her fellowship application. “The focus is really getting them equipped while they’re there to be able to successfully re-enter their communities and their schools.”
Harris volunteered at an alternative school while an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary, and said she saw how a stay in a juvenile detention center could affect teens.
“That’s when I realized I wanted to look into education advocacy,” Harris said. “I got to see the impact of sort of falling behind when they were there, and then trying to come back into their community, but being seen as these throw-away kids that no one really wanted to deal with.”
Once in law school, Harris worked at JustChildren and Legal Aid of Eastern Virginia during her summers, and has volunteered for the Legal Services of Northern Virginia’s Law Center for Children. She is currently serving as the National Black Law Students Association’s director of programming and has served in a number of organizations, from the Public Interest Law Association to the Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the Law.
Harris said she wants to devote her career to education and juvenile justice advocacy work.
“I don’t think I would be able to work at JustChildren for the next two years if it wasn’t for the Skadden, so I’m really, really grateful for that opportunity,” she said. “I’m really excited to be a part of the Skadden community of fellows as well.”
“They all were terrific,” she said. “Also, I’m in the Law and Public Service Program here and Professor Tomiko Brown-Nagin is my mentor, and she also was wonderful. She worked with me over the summer, talked with me about fellowship choices versus clerkships and also read over my application.”
Assistant Dean for Public Service Yared Getachew said the application process for public interest fellowships is highly competitive. Applicants must identify an underserved population and a critical need in the delivery of civil legal services, and convince legal services providers as well as sponsors that they possess the legal advocacy skills to accomplish their goal.
“The interview and selection process is grueling,” Getachew said. “It's conducted by seasoned attorneys in the public and private sectors, former judges, law school deans and leaders in the public interest community. Jeree and Hallam passed all tests. They identified critical needs of distinct vulnerable communities and demonstrated their advocacy skills and abiding commitment to service.”
“Dean Getachew and the entire Public Service Center were incredibly helpful,” Roth said. “They put me in touch with former UVA fellows, endlessly edited my applications, and helped me prepare for my interviews by putting together a mock interview panel.”
Roth is one of three law students to be named an Independence Foundation Fellow this year. The award requires recipients to work in Philadelphia, Roth’s hometown.
Roth will work at the Education Law Center to help children in foster care facing challenges to completing their education.
“Over 75 percent of Philadelphia’s high school children in foster care drop out of school,” Roth said. Foster children face special issues often exacerbated by frequent school transfers, she said.
“Sometimes kids are transferred unnecessarily, sometimes they are not getting appropriate services,” she said. “My job will be to help, when those things happen, to make sure everybody knows what education rights the kids have.”
Roth first became interested in public service in high school and college, when she had the opportunity to work with her mom, a neonatologist, in a study on children exposed to cocaine in utero. In college she interned with the Juvenile Court Assessment Center writing psychosocial assessments and treatment plans for youth entering the juvenile justice system.
After graduating from the University of Virginia with a psychology degree, Roth helped teenagers in Charlottesville participate in community service as a youth counselor assistant for Community Attention, and also worked for the Commission on Children and Families.
“I always knew that I wanted to do something working with kids growing up in low-socioeconomic-status environments,” she said. But she wasn’t sure whether to pursue education, psychology or law.
“I felt like there was so much good research happening in the education and child development fields, and I just couldn’t understand why we weren’t using some of this great knowledge that seemed to be out there,” Roth said of her decision to focus on law. “I felt like there was a big gap between people who are developing, implementing and enforcing policy and the people who are doing the research to back it up. Something was getting lost in translation — there didn’t seem to be a bridge between the two fields.”
During her summers in law school, Roth served as a fellow with Education Pioneers in Baltimore and worked for Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. During school she has served with organizations such as the Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the Law, Child Advocacy Research and Education, and Action for a Better Living Environment.
Roth said she was thrilled and thankful to receive the fellowship.
“This fellowship will give me access to the population that I have always served and wanted to serve and the population that I came to the Law School to help — kids growing up in environments with few resources who deserve just as much of a chance to succeed as everybody else. The best part of getting this fellowship is I will get to work with those kids directly.”
Harris and Roth will start their fellowships in the fall of 2011.