The students in the MHS Law and Justice flagship program now have a courtroom for hands-on learning.
A classroom at Matanzas High School has transformed into a courtroom — complete with a judge’s seat, a gavel and hand-crafted woodwork by the MHS Construction Flagship.
The courtroom is the home for the law section of the MHS Law and Justice Flagship.
"I want you to imagine this for a minute: This was a traditional classroom. When I first visited this school, this was a traditional classroom,” said Superintendent James Tager to a packed room of government and school officials. "Now, you look around and you think, 'How does this happen?' Because of flagships and learning opportunities.”
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held the morning of Wednesday, April 24, to celebrate the efforts of the construction students and the future opportunities the law students will have.
"It's going to help us and a lot of future generations because we have an advantage over other schools with academics with this — because you get to learn a little bit more and get to do more things related to the courts system than just sitting down and have someone explaining terms to you and you writing down definitions,” said freshman Caleb Struble, who’s in the Law and Justice Flagship. "So, it makes you feel more involved.”
Flagler County Judge Judge Melissa Distler, of the seventh judicial circuit, shared her passion with the students at the ceremony.
"I'm inspired that somebody as young as our students here can find that passion and know what they want to do,” she said. “And by having this type of a program, they will be more able to achieve their goals quicker than someone like me, who was in law school and didn't even know I wanted to be a lawyer.”
Jeremy Ossler, Matanzas flagship coordinator, said this courtroom will make all the difference for the program.
"It's every law teacher's dream to have a courtroom as their classroom,” Ossler said. "It's one thing to discuss the law; it's another to have a hands-on learning experience, which will be very beneficial to our students. Already this year, our students have utilized this for simulations in jury selection, as well as mock trials. Our Matanzas legal team has the perfect place to get themselves ready for state competition.”
There are 42 students currently in the Law and Justice Flagship, Ossler said, and most of them participate in both the law and the justice sides. He said that 55 students are enrolled for next year.
"I think criminal justice would be something cool that will help the community,” freshman Leslie Bravo said. "And when I come out of high school, I'd like to join an investigation. So, I think this program is really good to start on that.”
Tager emphasized how flagships extend their influence beyond the schools into the local community.
"Our flagships directly impact our economy,” Tager said. "We want to keep our students here in Flagler County. I will tell you, things like the Law and Justice Flagship will increase our graduation rate. We went from 81% in 2017 to 88% in 2018. And we look forward to a new graduating class on May 30 of this year. These flagships make a difference for students. We want students to have something to come to school for.”
Florida Representative Paul Renner made a donation for part of the courtroom, Executive Director of the Flagler County Education Foundation said. The construction students built it in about six weeks time, under the direction of Vincent Oliveri.
"Let's not forget: construction kids built it, and the Matanzas law and justice kids came up with the idea, so this is 100% kid-driven,” Rizzo said. "So, the only thing I ask of all the grown-ups in the room is, we have started a new program — actually, it started today — called career coaching, and all of you have lived a profession and can help one of these kids.”