The Proskauer corporate social responsibility and pro bono blog

Shutting Down the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Public schools across the country too often rely on harsh disciplinary measures. These policies are marked by an in-school police presence, high rates of arrest and suspension, and ineffectiveness. Unduly punitive strategies harm students, exacerbate inequality along the lines of race and disability, and lead to increased dropout rates as well as entanglements with the criminal justice system.  Helping to break this pattern, also known as the “school-to-prison pipeline,” has become part of our pro bono efforts thanks to Kate Terenzi, who just completed a two-year Equal Justice Works Fellowship sponsored by Proskauer. According to Kate, a greater emphasis on mental health services and an increase in trained guidance counselors and social workers as well as a new approach to discipline are key to improving our public schools.

Working at The Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), Kate has partnered with youth-led organizations on various policy initiatives and community organizing campaigns, and has represented young people facing school suspensions. At Proskauer, she has conducted trainings and served as a mentor and supervisor, enabling our lawyers to make a real difference in school suspension hearings.  Even when a suspension cannot be avoided, an attorney may be able to help reduce its duration or secure other benefits, such as help for a learning disability, or a transfer to a school that is better-suited to the student.  Continue Reading

Remembering the Victims of 9/11: A Q&A with Timothy McGuirk, Communications Manager at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum

Proskauer is a proud Corporate Member of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. As an annual supporter, the Firm regularly shares the experience of the Memorial and Museum with its employees, clients, summer associates and guests from around the world. In recognizing the 17th anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11, we present our readers with a Q&A between Timothy McGuirk, Communications Manager at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and Wendy Dessy, Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility at Proskauer. 

Wendy: What are your mission and goals?

Timothy: The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, a nonprofit organization located at the World Trade Center in New York City, bears solemn witness to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993. The organization honors the 2,983 victims of these attacks, those who risked their lives to save others and all who demonstrated extraordinary compassion in the aftermath through commemoration, exhibitions and educational programs that tell the story of the attacks and explore the continuing global impact of 9/11 and the consequences of terrorism on individual lives and communities.

Wendy: Please describe the process of building and designing the memorial?

Timothy: An international design competition was held in 2003 for selecting the design for a national memorial to remember and honor the people killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993. Design submissions totaled 5,201 and were received from 63 nations.

Wendy: Who are the architects?  

Timothy: Michael Arad, in concert with landscape architect Peter Walker, created the winning design, “Reflecting Absence.”

Wendy: Please tell us about the Historical and Memorial Exhibitions.

Timothy: The Museum tells the story of 9/11 through interactive technology, archives, narratives and a collection of artifacts.

Located within the original footprint of the North Tower, the historical exhibition tells the story of 9/11 using artifacts, images, first-person testimony and archival audio and video recordings. The exhibition is made up of three sequential parts: the Events of the Day, Before 9/11, and After 9/11.

Located within the original footprint of the South Tower, this exhibition features portrait photographs of the 2,983 victims of the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, and the February 26, 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Visitors can learn more about each victim by using touch-screen tables to look up individual profiles. An inner chamber projects selected individual profiles, including audio remembrances recorded by family members, friends and former colleagues. Rotating selections of victims’ personal artifacts donated by family members are also on display.

Wendy: It is so important for young people to understand the events of 9/11. How do you engage students?

Timothy: Annually, the 9/11 Memorial Museum hosts “Anniversary in the Schools,” a free webinar that provides a meaningful way to deepen students’ knowledge about the events of 9/11 and the importance of commemoration. The program introduces participants to exhibitions within the Museum, shares personal stories about the attacks from first responders and survivors, and invites them to ask questions through a live chat with Museum staff.

To learn more about this seminar, please click here: https://www.911memorial.org/blog/register-911-memorial-museums-annual-anniversary-schools-webinar

Throughout the year, the Museum offers a diverse set of inquiry-based programs designed to challenge students to think critically about a wide range of topics related to 9/11. All the programs and resources can be found here: https://www.911memorial.org/education-programs

Wendy: Is the exhibit appropriate for all ages? 

Timothy: While the Museum is open to all, it provides age-specific resources due to the sensitive nature of 9/11 content. These resources can be found here: https://www.911memorial.org/talk-children-about-terrorism

The Museum’s historical exhibition, September 11, 2001, may not be appropriate for visitors 10 years old and younger.

For more information about Corporate Membership at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, please visit www.911memorial.org/corporate-membership.

 

A Q&A with Kevin Froner, Principal of Manhattan Hunter Science High School

Wendy Dessy, Proskauer’s Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility, sat down with Kevin Froner, principal of Manhattan Hunter Science, a high school affiliated with CUNY-Hunter College in New York City. Over the last five years Manhattan Hunter Science has emerged as one of the top public schools in America and was recently ranked 17th in the nation by Newsweek for serving high poverty populations.  MHSHS is Proskauer’s Adopt-a-School partner in New York City. Through Adopt-a-School, the Firm’s signature education program, we develop skills and build relationships to motivate and inspire future leaders and help educate young people to their full potential. We provide introductions to a variety of careers, and leverage the core strengths, capabilities and expertise of our people in order to achieve these goals. We work with public and charter schools in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C.

Wendy: Please tell us about the unique model for your high school.

Kevin: Jennifer Raab, President of Hunter College launched MHSHS in 2003. She wanted to build a high school where students from diverse backgrounds could have access to an early college experience, a model that has proven to substantially increase high school graduation rates, as well as college attainment and completion. Our school was founded in partnership with Hunter College, and all of our seniors take classes there. This provides many benefits to students: they experience college first-hand but under our guidance. We help manage their expectations and acclimate to the new surroundings. The students also take some college-level courses while still in high school. This provides all seniors, many of whom will be first-generation college students, with a preview of the college experience while they still have the support of Manhattan Hunter Science High School (MHSHS) and its faculty.

Wendy: Can you tell us a bit about the student population of Manhattan Hunter Science and how students are accepted into the school?

Kevin: Our school is built upon a foundation of diversity with a large black and Hispanic population. The population of our school and its demographics mirror those of the city. By some accounts, MHSHS has the most competitive acceptance rate amongst all high schools in New York. According to an article published last year by the New York Times, Manhattan Hunter Science had an acceptance rate of 1.7% with 6,472 applicants for only 108 spots.

Currently 60% of the student body live at or below the poverty line. Moving forward, at least 69% of each incoming class will be of the same socioeconomic status. Additionally, 15% of the student body qualifies for special education services.

The application for MHSHS includes essays on why they as students want to be in the academically rigorous environment of MHSHS and its early-college program. Prospective students must have strong academics, strong attendance records, and a strong desire to be there and to learn.

Wendy: According to US News & World Report, Manhattan Hunter Science has 99% graduation rate. This is significantly higher than that of New York City at 74.3% and New York State at 80.2%. What are some of the key factors that support this success?

Kevin: We “shine a light” on any student who is falling behind and provide them with the resources they need. These include a homework center (which is open Monday-Thursday after school), social workers and guidance counselors, with an individualized approach for each student.

We set high expectations for the kids. There is a strong culture of success in our school and with the right mind-set, we can all succeed. That includes Advanced Placement for all. We enroll 100% of our junior class in an AP English Language & Composition course. We understand that writing is a critical skill for college and careers. This is one example of us knowing our kids and providing them with the tools to succeed.

A generous donor, Neil Janovic, provides free college tuition at Hunter College to all MHSHS students who achieve a certain SAT/ACT score and maintain a specific GPA. Approximately 90% of our students receive acceptance at Hunter and about half attend. Many others attend the SUNY schools, NYU and other private schools. We sent our first graduate to MIT this year!

Wendy: Across the country public education is facing insufficient funding. How do you handle budget cuts or limited funding? What is the role of the principal in these situations and what advice do you have for others?

Kevin: MHSHS relies on the support of many partners in the private sector. In general, charter schools are great at fostering partnerships but public schools are not. No one entity, public or private, can solve the issues facing education on their own. It requires a collaborative approach to provide students and schools with all the resources they need.

Schools, school leaders, and their partners need to be creative and assertive when it comes to problem solving. They must think about how partners can supplement school programming and resources to best support the students. If all those in private sector invested in their schools, more schools could provide for their students in the ways we do at MHSHS.

Principals should look at each student as if he or she is their own child and base every decision off that mindset. What if this were my child? What would I want for them?

Wendy: How do you address wellness and mindfulness in your school? These kids are under so much pressure.

Kevin: The students are under a lot of pressure that earlier generations did not experience. Economic uncertainty along with social media and technology places a lot of stress on the kids. We created a Mindfulness Center for the students. Studies have shown that meditation can reduce stress and provide healthier, happier, and more focused students. Our center also offers yoga classes.

Wendy: Anything else our audience should know?

Kevin: Nothing closes the divide more than education, and this is what drives me every day, all day.

New York Toughens Anti-Trafficking Law

What I thought would be a simple bill signing ceremony for legislation intended to protect children from sex trafficking turned out to be something more. On August 15th in lower Manhattan, rock music blared in the community center gymnasium as hundreds of people found their seats amid TV cameras stationed in front of a make-shift stage with a large banner embracing the fight for women and girls.  As the New York Times reported, “[t]he event was ostensibly a bill-signing ceremony,” but it had all the trappings of a political rally.

The legislation that Governor Cuomo signed is significant. Prior to this law, a New York State prosecutor had to prove force, fraud or coercion to establish sex trafficking – regardless of whether the victim was a child. It made no sense that even though a child cannot legally engage in sexual activity, the State still had to meet that evidentiary burden. The legislation conforms New York law to that of 46 other states and federal law which recognize that all children involved in prostitution are victims of trafficking. According to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.: “By eliminating the need to prove force, fraud, or coercion for children under 18-years-old, we will be able to bring stronger cases, and spare young survivors from the trauma of having to testify mere feet from their traffickers.” Continue Reading

Sending Campers to Experience Summer with the Fresh Air Fund

Growing up as a kid in the Bronx, my greatest memories were the summers my sisters and I spent upstate in the Catskills. The grit and graffiti (this was the 70’s!), concrete and sirens, were left behind for something that felt otherworldly and magical. To this day, when I smell freshly cut grass or hear the summer cicadas I immediately am transported to those endless days by rivers, exploring forest paths and getting up on my first horse. The stories of our adventures came back with me to share excitedly with my pals in the schoolyard, and kept my imagination soaring until the next time.

Jennifer Talbott (left) and Liz Bernard hand out snack packs at the summer send-off event.

So when I got the opportunity to join my colleagues for a send-off to the boys and girls in the Fresh Air Fund Friendly Town program, I felt such a deep sense of gratitude that I could be a part of the experience that I knew was about to change these kids’ lives. I learned that The Fresh Air Fund has been sending NYC kids from low-income communities off to amazing summer adventures with volunteer host families for 141 years. (Yes, the first kids left on horse and buggy!) Sitting in a designated area of Port Authority, our “job” was to entertain these kids while they waited for the busses to take them to their respective Friendly Town families for the week by playing games like UNO – which they had to teach us…and they won…every time. Mostly we just chatted and laughed and heard their enthusiasms and some of their worries as many of them were leaving their families for the first time. I was completely blown away by these smart, open-minded, creative little souls from all different ethnicities and backgrounds, spilling their feverishness out the way only children are able.

By the end of this volunteering experience, as is always the case with our For Good program activities, I was the one who received the blessing and the care and the love that I sought to give.

Guiding Hospitals in Providing Ethical Health Care to Intersex Patients

Today, an increasing number of medical practitioners are recognizing the importance of providing appropriate, non-discriminatory, and patient-centered health care to people born with intersex traits.  “Intersex” is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of inborn variations in sex characteristics that do not seem to fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies. Considered a sex and gender minority by the National Institutes of Health, between 0.05 percent and 1.7 percent of the population is born with intersex traits.

Care of intersex individuals, particularly children, demands special attention to avoid biases based on outdated understandings of sex and gender. To assist hospitals in offering intersex-affirming health care, pro bono attorneys at Proskauer teamed up with nonprofit legal organizations interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth and Lambda Legal to create an educational policy guide designed to better educate hospitals about the unique needs of intersex patients and address the bias and insensitivity intersex patients and their families all too often face in a health care setting. Continue Reading

Hunger in New York City and How We Can Help

On a daily basis we are inundated with news and information from all over the world. My morning paper, evening news, and daily smartphone alerts are primarily focused on the United States’ political climate, natural disasters, violence, and other harrowing stories of people in need. Our newsfeed can seem to create a barrier between us and those we could help. I often feel it seems that those most in need are furthest from our reach. Yet it is important to remember how much work there is to be done right outside our own doors.

Prior to joining the Corporate Social Responsibility team at Proskauer this spring, I spent three years working in fundraising and development at Citymeals on Wheels. While the projects I worked on varied, I always took pride in knowing that my work supported Citymeals’ mission of providing nutritious meals to homebound seniors in need. People are often surprised by the scale of Citymeals’ work. The organization delivers to more than 18,000 elderly New Yorkers, resulting in over 2 million meals every year. And while these numbers are truly staggering, Citymeals’ recipients only account for a small percentage of New Yorkers who face the growing struggles of food insecurity. Continue Reading

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