Lisa DeYarza has been busy. The longtime educator and Department Head at Miami Lakes Middle School has been attending various civic competitions with her social studies students as she does every year, while preparing for the grand opening of her classroom courtroom.
The courtroom, which was specially designed, is furnished with a judge's bench, a jury box, a witness stand, a plaintiff's and defendant's table and seats for spectators. Plans for the courtroom began in early 2012 and a grand opening celebration will be held on March 31.
"As a school with a legal magnet, why not cement that with a court room?" said DeYarza. "Our principal, Dr. Manuel Sanchez, saw the benefit. He saw how this was going to augment the school so he gave the go-ahead for it."
DeYarza was keen on finishing the court room in March to have the grand opening fall within National Women's History Month as a nod to the women who were instrumental in making the courtroom a reality. Beth Martinez from The Graham Companies, Dorcas Perez from the Town of Miami Lakes, School Board Chair Perla Tabares Hantman, and former councilmember Mary Collins all contributed to the project.
Town councilmembers, Mayor Wayne Slaton, School Board members, representatives from The Graham Companies, and many others have been invited to attend the grand opening.
In the midst of construction DeYarza's students have earned awards at the Model United Nations (MUN) competition earlier this year and were named champions at the We The People competition held in December.
Additionally, for this year's Project Citizen competition, DeYarza's team has been working with Vice Mayor Manny Cid and with Representative Jose Felix Garcia for local and state issues pertaining to their project. Their project bill on children's care is currently moving in the House of Representatives much to the delight of the students. Finalists for the competition will be named later this year.
Preparing for and attending multiple civic competitions sometimes creates overlap, as it did this year, which kept students from attending the District Mock Trial competition. DeYarza, intent on still having her students participate in a mock trial competition found an innovative way to do so. She has planned an in-house mock trial competition open to all sixth, seventh and eighth grade social studies teachers.
Teachers will host mock trial competitions against different class periods until two winning teams from each grade level are left. The winning teams will go head to head in a special mock trial held in the new classroom courtroom in the presence of a judge. One winner will be announced for every grade level.
"Whether we participate at districts or not, we will always participate here," said DeYarza.