In 2001, Thurgood Marshall Academy was founded on legal principles that serve as teaching tools that educate and empower students. Now, fifteen years later, Thurgood Marshall Academy is recognized as Washington, DC’s only law-themed high school, a recognition that sets our curriculum apart. Consciously interweaving the elements of law and democracy into students’ academics exposes them to effective ways that they can advocate for change, make a difference in society, and stand up for their rights and the rights of their peers—much like the school’s namesake, Thurgood Marshall, who led the historic Brown v. Board of Education case that outlawed the policy of “separate but equal” and ensures that all students receive an excellent, quality education.
Fifteen years ago, law students and attorneys at Georgetown University were enrolled in a “Street Law” course that inspired them to establish Thurgood Marshall Academy. During the course, they completed a project that gave them a rare opportunity to teach local high school students about the law and their rights. Assigned to a neighborhood high school in Ward 8—now home of Thurgood Marshall Academy—the Street Law students became aware that there was a lack of opportunities that provided academic and emotional support to students.
The school’s founder Josh Kern, who was enrolled in the course at the time, grew committed to put the “Street Law” program into practice and provide equal education resources for students east of the river. But when he pursued the idea to bring legal principles to high school students with the goal of setting students on a path to college, doubt from professionals in the field soon followed. Those skeptical of the initiative thought “opening a high school to any student and have them prepared to be successful in college wasn’t something we could do,” Kern recently told Politico magazine.
Considering that students in Wards 7 and 8, DC’s most underserved communities, were not getting the academic and educational resources that their more privileged counterparts received, Kern was motivated by the legacy of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. His commitment to provide all students with equal opportunity no matter their race, background, or their family’s financial aptitude was the driving force that sparked Thurgood Marshall Academy’s creation in 2001.
The need for a school dedicated to student success was just as relevant when TMA was founded as it is now. Richard Pohlman, the school’s new interim Executive Director acknowledged the concerning issue saying “in reflecting on the start of school I was drawn to our community namesake. Mr. Thurgood Marshall was a tenacious individual and tireless advocate; his name is nearly synonymous with the desegregation of schools. Yet today, the educational injustices Mr. Marshall fought against persist for our students.”
It is increasingly important that TMA practices a law-themed curriculum and discovers new ways to incorporate ideals of advocacy, democracy, and equality into students’ course work. We envision that this prepares our students to be leaders who are compelled to actively engage in our democratic society. Like Justice Thurgood Marshall, they too can make a difference and can reinvent history.
To keep our law-themed curriculum fresh and relevant, Thurgood Marshall Academy relies upon the expertise of attorneys to heighten its law-themed curriculum, which continues to:
- Encourage students to engage in our democratic society.
- Implement legal skills—Research, Argumentation, Critical Thinking, Advocacy, and Negotiation—into every area of study including mathematics and science.
- Teach students the skills that lawyers have—the ability to solve complex problems, think critically, and advocate persuasively for themselves and their communities.
- Provide opportunities for students to engage with seasoned lawyers through an array of enrichment activities including mandatory law-firm tutoring, Law Days, and participation in Georgetown University’s Street Law program.
- Explore the roles of politicians and other pertinent government leaders during high-profile school visits and guided tours.
- Bring the relevance of the US Supreme Court and other justice-related institutions to life during class field trips.
- Prepare students to succeed in local and national debate tournaments, oratory competitions, and mock trials.