Passion for education reform drives Penn State Law students

May 08, 2013

Although students Sarah Whittington and Stephen Worthington came to Penn State Law from vastly different geographical regions — Whittington from Philadelphia, Pa. and Worthington from Cedar City, Utah — they quickly discovered that they share a lot in common. Both studied history in college, Worthington at Utah State University and Whittington at Connecticut College. Both agree that education reform in the United States is necessary. And both came to Penn State Law planning to get involved with the student organization Law and Education Alliance at Penn State (LEAP).

Shortly after their arrival, however, Whittington and Worthington found out that LEAP was inactive. Determined to share their enthusiasm with other students interested in law and education, Whittington and Worthington successfully worked together to restart LEAP. Both students currently serve as officers for LEAP, Whittington as president and Worthington as treasurer.

Education law handles issues relating to K-12 education, higher education, charter schools, faculty tenure issues, free speech in the classroom, curriculum issues, and school reform, among other things. The goal of LEAP is to increase the awareness of educational law which is at the forefront of legal world.

Whittington, an alumna of Teach for America, spent six years teaching in rural Louisiana before coming to Penn State. “There needs to be policy advisement on education reform and people with an education background can add a lot the conversation,” she said. “Louisiana was very interested in Race to the Top programs. The biggest problem I saw when serving on Louisiana’s State Board of Education Committee was that a lot of people had ideas, but no practical application. That’s where the gap is. Recognizing how we can make this work in the classroom is very important.”

Also interested in education reform, Worthington is pursuing a joint degree in law and educational theory and policy with Penn State College of Education. “There is wide consensus in the U.S. that our education system is plagued with problems, but there is no consensus on how to address them. At this point, I don't have satisfying answers to those problems, but I want to find those answers,” Worthington said. “I chose Penn State’s joint-degree program in law and education policy so I could develop the expertise to analyze the problems, identify solutions, and then spend my career implementing those solutions. LEAP is an ideal vehicle for students with similar passions to share in that quest."
LEAP Activities

LEAP’s slate was chocked full of activities during the past year. The organization partnered with the American Association of Justice, a national organization for trial lawyers, and hosted a book fundraiser where students donated old text books which were then distributed through the Worldwide Book Fund to high need community centers or low income areas. LEAP members also helped Bellefonte Area High School students prepare for mock trials. “We went through the trial prep piece by piece, helping them with opening statements, objections, and lines of questioning for cross examination,” explained Whittington.

Events hosted by LEAP provide law students with opportunities to network with legal scholars and national leaders in education law. Speakers during the spring semester included Dr. Julie Mead, chair of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who delivered a presentation on special education law, and Damon Sims, vice president of student affairs at Penn State, who discussed the benefits of legal training in higher education leadership and his own career path.

On March 14, LEAP helped staff an all-day, professional development event for school administrators and attorneys practicing school law. “Law and Education Day” concluded with a career panel where students had the opportunity to ask current practitioners about school law as a career.

Both students will be busy this summer with positions directly related to their specializations—Whittington will be working as a Teach for America summer school principal in the Mississippi Delta and Worthington will be working with the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System in Harrisburg.

Future activities of LEAP include visiting local classrooms to teach civics lessons and partnering with the WorkLaw Society, another student organization, to host a panel discussion on teachers unions.

  • Penn State Law students Sarah Whittington and Stephen Worthington work gives new life to student organization
    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated July 22, 2015