BY COLLEEN ARACRI, ESQ.
Many Maryland lawyers will tell you that their desire to join the legal profession began when they were in high school; some can even pinpoint a class or event that piqued their interest. Not all school districts offer law-related courses, but a few go out of their way to provide students opportunities to learn more about the legal process. The Schools in Court program allows students to learn more about the legal system and law-related careers. The program was held at the District Court of Maryland for Prince George’s County and hosted by the Honorable Lisa A. Hall Johnson, Administrative Judge, the Honorable Cheri Simpkins Gardner, Associate Judge, and courthouse staff.
THE MSBA WAS HAPPY to support the Schools in Court Program by providing MSBA branded items including pens and pad folios.
Prince George’s County high schools offer students a Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (HSEP) program, which is a Career and Technical Education program that helps students develop the skills needed to obtain certifications or college credits. The HSEP program has a Criminal Justice Pathway for students who are interested in studying the law and the criminal justice field, and when the District Court judges wanted students to participate in the Schools in Court program, theCriminal Justice Pathway students were those first group that came to mind.
During the Schools in Court program, four students who volunteered to be “law breakers” simulated sitting in a car. They were approached by a police officer who suspected that there were drugs in the vehicle; the officer searched for and found banned substances and the students were arrested, arraigned, and sat through mock bail hearings. The students did not know what was going to happen beforehand.
Throughout the day, the judges and courthouse staff had discussions with the students about appropriate ways to inter- act with police officers and protect their rights. David Duba, Bowie High School Social Studies teacher, found that the Schools in Court program helped to solidify a lot of the lessons the students learn in the classroom. At the end of the day, at least one student reported that she was inspired to pursue becoming a lawyer.
The MSBA commends the Prince George’s County schools and courts for their efforts to educate students about Maryland’s legal system and potentially, foster an interest in the law. The association is hopeful that some of the participants will turn out to be Maryland lawyers and MSBA members in the future. The Prince George’s County School District featured the program on their website and YouTube page.