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Las Cruces middle schoolers learn ‘Street Law’ from NMSU professors

Students at Lynn Middle School have spent Friday mornings almost every week for the past semester engaged in “Street Law” classes, learning about topics such as civil, family, and criminal law from New Mexico State University criminal justice faculty.


Professors teach middle school students
NMSU faculty members Rory Rank (left) and Steve Nance (right) instruct students at Lynn Middle School, Friday, March 8, 2019, on the ins-and-out of "Street Law." (NMSU photo by Matthew Legarreta)
Professor points at students
NMSU adjunct faculty member Rory Rank teaches students at Lynn Middle School "Street Law" Friday, March 8, 2019, during a class being taught every Friday this past semester at Lynn Middle School. (NMSU photo by Matthew Legarreta)

New Mexico has consistently ranked low when it comes to child welfare, with recent findings from the 2017 Kids Count Data Book ranking the state 49th out of 50 for overall child well-being. Dona Ana County in particular has 38 percent of children living in poverty, 8 percent higher than the average for the rest of the state.

Those troubling statistics got the attention of Rory Rank, an adjunct faculty member at NMSU’s criminal justice department, who proposed a more direct approach to reaching students in danger of engaging in criminal activities.

“You can do studies, you can do research, you can do data and all this,” said Rank, “but the number one thing is action. You have to get out and actually provide the service and get involved.”

Rank worked alongside fellow NMSU professors Steve Nance, William Corbett, and Andrea Joseph on developing and presenting the “Street Law” classes to the 8th grade students of Michelle Lucero’s social studies class. The goal of the class is to both educate and deter at-risk youth from pursuing and engaging in illegal activity.

“Reaching kids in middle school…it’s a place where we can start to address tough issues for children in more troubled backgrounds,” said Nance, a visiting faculty member at NMSU and instructor of criminal justice classes at Dona Ana Community College.

Both Rank and Nance come from a deep background of working with kids in the criminal justice system. Nance is a former southern New Mexico warden and police officer, while Rank was a practicing attorney for 30 years, and formerly served as the supervisor of the Juvenile Division at the Las Cruces Law Offices of the Public Defender.

The “Street Law” classes are part of the community school initiative begun by Lynn Middle School in 2017. The program draws in outside resources from the Las Cruces community and brings them directly to the students who need them, in an effort to encourage their overall growth and well-being. Other programs being offered as part of the community school slate include the La Mariposa girls mentoring program, and a class on family development and personal communication.

“Really, this whole community school system is an opportunity to harness the wisdom and the assets we have in the community,” said David Greenberg, who is the district coordinator for community schools at the Las Cruces public school district, and who helped put together the “Street Law” classes. “And it’s all about bestowing that wisdom on our students here at Lynn.”

“The students have really opened up and developed a deep bond with these mentors,” said Greenberg. “It has uncovered some really deep issues and struggles students don’t have other outlets to talk about.”

“Teaching these kids about criminal justice will help protect society, “said Rank, “but it also has another impact: restoring young people to healthy, productive lives that are meaningful. It will let them know they have something to offer, and a deeper purpose.”