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At De Anza High School’s law academy, students get preparation for professional world

on October 7, 2014

As the school bell rings, students at De Anza High School stream into the hallways and make their way to their next class. For a few students, this next class is a law academy, where they learn the foundational skills of the legal profession.

De Anza’s three-year-old law academy brings in practicing Bay Area lawyers to give students a real-life view of the legal world. Local district attorneys visit the classroom to mentor students and provide legal insights. The program is designed to give students a head start on a legal career, and it has already made an impact, with several students saying they intend to pursue legal studies.

“I feel like I’m an adult… I feel like I’m in the real world,” said Sonia Shakeel, a De Anza junior in her second year of the program.

Ariel Vega, a junior also in his second year of the program says the academy is only the beginning: he plans on continuing to study law after high school.

All De Anza freshmen have the opportunity to choose one of four academies to enroll in during their sophomore year. Besides law, options include a health academy, Information Technology Communication Education (ITCA), and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Students can switch from one academy to another during their junior or senior year.

The law academy builds in diversity. As a federally funded program, it must roughly consist of an enrollment of fifty percent honor roll students and fifty percent at-risk students. The law academy currently has 120 students enrolled in the class.

Students say they are pleased with the instructors. De Anza senior and third year law academy student, Angelina Quilici praised her teacher, Tahitia Dean. “Ms. Dean is the type of teacher who, if you’re not inclined to learn, will push you and make things interesting for you to learn. She’s more than accommodating to help you succeed… and tries to bring [out] the best qualities of every person, despite if they’re at-risk or an honor student.”

Each year a big event on the law academy calendar is the mock trial competition.

Last year, De Anza placed second in West Contra Costa Unified School District’s (WCCUSD) Mock Trial competition, which involved five high schools. District attorneys score the teams.

“It’s the most rewarding experience,” said Quilici. “[Mock trials] have helped me be able to be confident in front of any group of people.”

In preparation for their mock trial competition this February, law academy students are studying case briefings and auditioning in various roles, such as being the case’s lead attorney.

The law academy is not only introducing students to the profession, but it may be the training ground for Richmond’s next district attorney.

Next week the law academy’s future building is expected to be named for former Alameda County Superior Court judge Henry Ramsey Jr. The late judge was the father of Charles Ramsey, President of the West Contra Costa Unified School District Board of Education.

The renaming will be recommended to the full Board of Education on October 15.




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