Adapting to adopt

PHOTO: ZARWIN.COM Alan Casnoff gathered up donations from his law firm to S. Weir Mitchell Elementary after a chat with the schools superintendent.
PHOTO: ZARWIN.COM Alan Casnoff gathered up donations from his law firm to S. Weir Mitchell Elementary after a chat with the schools superintendent.
Posted: January 14, 2014

THE SEED WAS planted by affluent friends and neighbors who told Alan Casnoff about things they were doing to aid Philadelphia's ailing schools.

The bud took root in a conversation at the gym between Casnoff and Schools Superintendent William Hite.

It began to bloom when Casnoff took it to Mitchell Kaplan, managing shareholder of the regional law firm of Zarwin Baum DeVito Kaplan Schaer Toddy. Kaplan flashed a green light.

The harvest: a shipment of 10 computers and other equipment, with more to come, to S. Weir Mitchell Elementary School in Southwest Philadelphia.

Here I'll drop the gardening guide to explain what this is all about.

It's about outreach from law firms to public schools, something promoted by Philadelphia Bar Association chancellor-elect William Fedullo in a speech last month. On my Stu-niversity blog, I asked why larger law firms couldn't adopt a school, provide money, material, tutoring or mentoring.

A couple already are.

After Hite told lawyer Casnoff that the 453-student Weir school at 55th and Kingsessing could use help, Casnoff visited the school. He says principal Cheryl Hackett told him "there was a need for equipment such as computers, but also simple things like copy paper, tables, printers, electric pencil sharpeners."

Real quick, the school got 20 computers from Zarwin Baum, plus 10 printers, an iPad, two TVs, bookcases, tables, copy paper (courtesy of Zarwin Baum vendor Newtown Office Supply) electric pencil sharpeners and more. What isn't out-of-the-box new is only slightly used and it's all like a blessing for kids in the underfunded school.

"We are guided by Alan," Kaplan told me. "We support his vision" and the aid is "not a short-term situation. We are adopting this school and hope to fill other needs over a long period of time."

An additional 25 computers will be sent soon, and this spring Zarwin Baum volunteers will repair the rubber matting under playground equipment so that kids can use it.

Over at Ballard Spahr, the nationwide law firm with more than 505 staffers in Center City, helping in the community has long-established roots.

For 15 years the firm has been involved with Philadelphia Reads, a nonprofit that works to improve literacy skills among Philadelphia's youngest low-income students, according to Ballard Spahr lawyer Mary Gay Scanlon, who takes the point on some of the firm's extralegal activities.

As one of the city's largest law firms, it can do more than most, and does, but I'm focusing here on a single element - Constitution High School, at 18 S. 7th St., a magnet high concentrating on civics and social science.

When the firm heard of the school's purpose, "they jumped on it," Scanlon said. The firm wants more diversity in its ranks and understands that requires more diversity among candidates, starting in high school.

Ballard Spahr volunteered to help the school in 2005, a year before it opened its doors to about 400 students who compete to be there, who want to be there and almost all of whom are accepted to college.

The firm has provided both money and staff, created a mock-trial room in the school, offered scholarships and summer internships, and brought students to visit Ballard Spahr to see lawyers at work, Scanlon said.

The idea is to create a pipeline of high-school students interested in law by providing mentors, having them see how things work. This enables students to envision themselves as lawyers.

Zarwin Baum and Ballard Spahr know doing good things for education is a reward in itself.

Is there anything you can do?


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/Byko

Columns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky

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