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Photo courtesy of OSI-Baltimore

Aarti Sidhu '18: OSI Community Fellow Working to Keep Children in School

“Beyond hope is not something that exists in a child.” That belief is the core of Aarti Sidhu’s crusade to ensure access to education for Baltimore City’s schoolchildren. At the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, Aarti found the resources that helped her follow her passion.

As a young woman, Aarti believed she would best serve the children she wanted to reach by becoming a teacher. In college she began to see the larger systemic problems in education and decided to go to law school to address them.

At Maryland Carey Law she found groups of faculty and students that shared her interest and zeal for ensuring access to education for schoolchildren. Aarti spent four semesters as a part of the Youth, Education, and Justice Clinic, interned with both Disability Rights Maryland (DRM) and the ACLU of Maryland, and became associated with the Maryland Suspension Representation Project (MSRP).

“What does a child need? The first would probably be love and family, the second would be food and water, but what’s the third? It has to be an education. How do you expect anyone to succeed without an education?”

Wanting to continue the work advocating for children facing exclusionary discipline (suspensions and expulsions from school), Aarti weighed her options. “As one of Professor [Michael] Pinard’s [Youth, Education, and Justice] clinic students, I represented students in suspension hearings and conferences through the MSRP and that's when I realized this is something that I want to do, and I want to find a way to be able to do it while still earning a living.”

With graduation looming, Aarti sent a fellowship proposal to the Open Society Institute of Baltimore outlining her vision — Represent Youth: Baltimore School Justice Initiative. The proposal was accepted and Aarti was announced as one of ten 2018 OSI-Baltimore Community Fellows.

The Represent Youth Initiative seeks to not only directly represent students facing exclusionary discipline, but to also give students, parents, and other community leaders the resources and training they need to ensure the due process rights of Baltimore City schoolchildren, their own or others, are not violated.

“No one is inherently bad. Behaviors are learned. In Baltimore City you’re looking at a lot of poverty, a lot of drugs, a lot of broken homes, schools in poverty, schools without heat or air conditioning, food deserts. Who expects these children to thrive and excel in this system and the city? They have been disadvantaged at every single turn.”

As part of the proposal process, Aarti had to find an organization to house her during the fellowship and Maryland Carey Law offered her space in the Clinic for her 18-month term. Professor Pinard commented on Aarti, saying: “Aarti was a dedicated and amazing student-attorney.  She combined her experience working with youth with her excellent lawyering and advocacy skills.  She earned a stellar reputation in Maryland’s youth advocacy community through her clinic work, as well as her work with DRM and the ACLU of Maryland.  We very much look forward to continuing to partner with Aarti in her capacity as an OSI Community Fellow, as she builds and executes her youth representation project, which is sorely needed in Baltimore.”

Aarti’s 18-month fellowship term has just begun, but hopes are high that she will be able to find a way to make her initiative sustainable. Even while trying to manage the business aspect of representing indigent students, she remains committed to her clients: “I am the child's attorney. I'm there to advocate for their best interest. I see it as my job to help those children that are falling through the cracks.”

To learn more about Represent Youth: Baltimore School Justice Initiative, read more here and listen to Aarti’s WYPR interview here. To learn more about the Maryland Suspension Representation Project, click here