It has been a little over ten years since Miami Lakes Middle School's Legal Department Head, Lisa DeYarza, first created the Legal Studies Magnet Program and led the founding class to first place in their first Project Citizen competition. Since then, DeYarza and her students have gone on to win multiple awards in various civic competitions including Project Citizen, Model United Nations, and District Mock Trial Competitions.
Despite the success of the program, DeYarza felt she could enhance learning and bring the atmosphere of a courtroom into the classroom and so she made plans to pursue that goal.
Blueprints and planning for a classroom courtroom began over two years ago, and through the charitable efforts and influence of local businesses, the Town of Miami Lakes, The Graham Companies, and educational and political professionals including Senator Bob Graham, former Councilmember Mary Collins, and Miami-Dade School Board Chair, Perla Tabares Hantman, the dreams and designs finally became reality.
The Legal Studies Magnet Courtroom Inauguration was held Thursday, May 8, and included presentations by Miami Lakes Mayor Wayne Slaton, Hantman, and Miami-Dade Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr.
“We are very pleased and honored to have the opportunity to work with our students. We are grateful for and lucky to have teachers like Mrs. DeYarza who are so passionate about their profession and so fully committed to the success of the students, and that is the key. It's all about the students,” said Slaton.
Hantman presented DeYarza and the students with a proclamation, and Bovo also presented a certificate to the class on behalf of himself and Senator Rene Garcia.
“For all the negative things we hear about our youth, there are so many positive things we need to highlight and this is such a shining example,” said Bovo.
A student reflection was also presented by former Miami Lakes Middle School student and founding class member of the school's legal magnet program, Sabrina Riera. Riera, who flew in from Michigan where she is currently a graduate student instructor at the University of Michigan, regarded DeYarza as one of the finest teachers she had the pleasure of meeting and recounted memories held within classroom 256.
“For me, personally, Project Citizen instilled a love and appreciation for research and civic engagement, something I have taken with me throughout my academic career and into my current graduate program in public health. It's amazing what these students have been able to accomplish since our after school project and I'm proud to say that I was a member of the first class that set the stage for it all,” said Riera.
Senator Graham and Beth Martinez of The Graham Companies then unveiled an inscription for the courtroom featuring a quote by Senator Graham that reads: “Every generation of Americans has the obligation to know its rights and duties as citizens. May those students who enter here accept this responsibility for themselves and protect it for future students.”
A ribbon-cutting ceremony followed the presentations and courtroom was immediately christened with a mock trial led by DeYarza's legal studies students.
Concluding remarks were given by Miami Lakes Middle School principal Manuel Sanchez III and DeYarza, as well as tokens of gratitude presented to Senator Graham and Martinez, Slaton, and Hantman. One of the plaques presented read “Our deepest gratitude for giving us the wings to sustain our students' civic education and foster their civic skills.”