Shin Awarded Powell Fellowship

January 15, 2010

Children in the juvenile justice system often don't receive the educational opportunities they are entitled to, according to third-year law student Crystal Shin, the recipient of the Law School's 2010 Powell Fellowship.

Crystal Shin
Crystal Shin

As a result, these children stand less chance of catching up to their peers academically and face greater risk of dropping out and committing future crimes, Shin said.

"I believe education is the primary medium through which the cycle of poverty can be broken and delinquency rates lowered. When these students are denied access to education, the consequences are far-reaching," she said."Students who are suspended or expelled without educational services fall behind and become disengaged, increasing the odds that they will quit school and become delinquent. Our society can invest in our students now or pay for their failures later."

The Powell Fellowship is designed to help recipients give legal assistance to the indigent. It provides an annual salary plus benefits for the first year, and is renewable for a second. During that time, recipients' loan payments are paid for through the Virginia Loan Forgiveness Program.

Shin will use the Powell Fellowship to advocate for at-risk children by representing youthful offenders who face obstacles when attempting to re-enroll in school. She will also represent youths facing expulsion due to their delinquency charges. Youths charged with serious crimes are often expelled by their school systems without receiving the hearing they are legally entitled to, Shin said.

"For clients such as these I would advocate and litigate as appropriate. This would involve demanding a hearing, representing students at hearings, or just working with the school district to find an alternative placement for the student," Shin said. She will work with the JustChildren program at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville and represent children from Charlottesville and the surrounding counties.

"You get to design your dream project and get funding for it. It really is a blessing," she said of the fellowship."This is the perfect project for me as it allows me to work at the intersection of juvenile justice and educational reform."

Dean Paul G. Mahoney praised Shin's dedication to disadvantaged children and lauded her for being awarded the fellowship.

"Crystal is a remarkable person who prior to law school was a devoted teacher of at-risk youth," Mahoney said."I am delighted that the Powell Fellowship will enable her to serve as an advocate for them."

Before attending law school, Shin worked for three years in Henderson, N.C. , as a teacher in the Teach for America program. She said that experience is why she decided to attend law school and focus on advocating for children.

"I witnessed first-hand students who were deprived of the educational opportunities to which they were entitled," she said.

Yared Getachew
Yared Getachew

Yared Getachew, the assistant dean for public service and director of the Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center, cited Shin's background working with at-risk youth and praised her attention to the field as a law student.

"At Virginia Law, she worked tirelessly with PILA to raise funds for summer grants," Getachew said."She also actively sought pro bono and summer internships, including with the McGuire Woods Child Advocacy Project, the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and the Legal Aid Justice Center's JustChildren program, which allowed her to work extensively in the areas of special education law and indigent juvenile defense. Crystal very much deserves this recognition."

In addition to representing clients, Shin will help work with JustChildren on a state-wide initiative that aims to educate Virginia school systems and legislators on the dangers of out-of-school suspension.

Out-of-school suspension decreases school safety and often leads to worse behavior, she said.

"For a student already disengaged from school, suspension means rewarding the desire not to attend," Shin said."It also hurts their chances of graduating."

The JustChildren project will encourage school systems to consider more effective alternatives that don't include removing the student from school.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

News Highlights