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Order in the classroom; Central Technical School launches legal program. U of T law school hopes to promote higher education;

Jeeniraj Thevasagayam, 14, likes basketball. But his real passion is riding his bike.

"It takes me everywhere," said the Grade 9 Central Technical School student.

In September, Jeeniraj will be one of about 300 downtown Toronto students participating in a new high school law program its creators hope will continue to take youngsters everywhere and anywhere they want to go.

The program, Law in Action Within Schools (LAWS) - a joint venture between the law faculty at the University of Toronto and the Toronto District School Board - is believed to be the first of its kind in Canada . It will embed law and justice themes into core high school subjects, starting at Grade 10, and offer students a chance to visit U of T, meet faculty and students and be exposed to law firms and co-op programs beyond the usual scope of high school. The hope is to broaden horizons while sharpening critical thinking and literacy skills.

LAWS is a parting gift to Toronto students from U of T law Dean Ron Daniels, who's moving to the University of Pennsylvania.

About 55 students at Central Tech will be enrolled in September in a three-year law program described as "a school within a school." In a variation of the program, all 250 Grade 10s at Harbord College Institute will have law and justice themes integrated into the curriculum of their core subjects. The schools were selected for the pilot program because of their diversity and proximity to the university.

The high school law program will show students that legal and justice issues permeate their lives, said Fran Parkin, principal of Harbord Collegiate. Students will discuss such subjects as who owns the tissue in DNA samples collected for forensic evidence and the implications of downloading music.

The idea isn't to make more lawyers, but rather to get students who might not otherwise consider university to see it as a realistic option, said Daniels.

He introduced the idea to his faculty colleagues after learning some New York City schools were using law programs to successfully graduate more students and send them on to higher education. Some of those schools had relationships with law firms but none had a partnership with a university, said Daniels. When UofT brought the idea to the Toronto District School Board seven months ago it was met with enthusiasm. School board and university officials looked at programs in the Bronx and Brooklyn before collaborating on the two versions of LAWS announced yesterday.

Each year at UofT there are people who are the first in their families to go to university, Daniels told students from Harbord and Central Tech in the latter school's auditorium yesterday. "Picture yourself there," he said.

Daniels said he grew up in a home of privilege. "That I made my way to UofT is no surprise, but I'm one generation removed from your story," he said.

In 1939 his grandparents left Warsaw for Canada . Daniels' father, Phillip, attended Harbord, while his Uncle Jack went to Central Tech. They both went to UofT, to study law and architecture, respectively. Yesterday, the father and uncle looked on with pride as the law dean entreated the students to reconsider their future. "I fear there are too many of you who don't see your precious entitlement to higher education," he said.

It's an entitlement Jeeniraj thinks about when he's riding his bike across the UofT campus to his Regent Park home. Jeeniraj came here with his parents from Sri Lanka in 1997 speaking only Tamil. Now he's pulling off A grades and thinking about a career in law. "I talk a lot. I talk too much," he jokes.

An elementary principal once suggested UofT's interim president Frank Iacobucci also liked to talk, the former Supreme Court justice told the students at yesterday's program launch. "That was the seed that had me from an early age thinking about law," said Iacobucci, who will become chair of the board of directors of Torstar, which owns the Toronto Star, this summer.

"Education is not just a ticket to earn a living, it's a passport to learn how to live," Iacobucci said. "Don't rule out anything. Each of you has the talent to achieve those dreams."

Reproduced with permission - Torstar Syndication Services.