District 214 students learn about law through Career Pathways program
Kayla Diaz has always been interested in the legal profession. So when Elk Grove High School began offering an American law course, she immediately signed up.
The semesterlong course, which helps students better understand America's legal system, is the introductory class to two legal-focused pathways, part of Northwest Suburban High School District 214's Career Pathways program.
The District 214 program, with 44 career pathways, is designed to help high school students discover their futures through a sequence of career-focused courses, workplace learning experiences and access to career credentials and early college credits.
Now a senior, Diaz is determined to attend law school, become a lawyer and help others.
"I'm glad I've taken (these classes) because now I have a specific view on what I want to do when I grow up," said Diaz, who graduates in May.
Elk Grove and John Hersey high schools launched the Criminal Justice and Legal Services pathways nearly two years ago. Both pathways have since expanded to other District 214 schools, with 873 students currently participating districtwide.
Making career decisions in high school can help pave the way for students determined to become lawyers, given that law school attrition rates run as high as 20 percent or more, according to studies based on American Bar Association numbers, and tuition and fees average $46,000 a year for private university law programs.
Both pathways are open to all students interested in other legal professions as well, such as police officers, FBI agents and crime scene investigators, and also are well-suited for those who want to develop public speaking skills or pursue public service, said District 214 administrators.
"I love teaching these classes because the law is so relevant to our daily lives. Students are interested in the law and how the laws that are created affect them," said Hersey social science teacher Jodi Blazek.
Outside class, students have opportunities to participate in co-curricular activities such as the Law or Mock Trial teams. These students work with practicing attorneys to prepare for mock trial competitions, including the Northwest Suburban Bar Association's Annual Mock Trial Invitational at the Rolling Meadows Courthouse.
"It's so cool to be able to go into a courtroom and be able to face off against an opponent in terms of a legal issue because, yes, you get to figure out if that's something you want to do," said Hersey junior Joseph Lehman.
"But it's also a lot of fun to be able to stand up there and prove yourself in front of the judge and the lawyers."
But it's not all mock trials and classes. Elk Grove senior Jakub Gornik, who wants to pursue a career in law enforcement, is currently participating in a practicum with the Elk Grove Village Police Department. Through this, he's learning different aspects of policing and how police enforce the law.
Elk Grove High School's criminal and constitutional law teacher Dan Saken and social sciences teacher Stephanie Kezios have worked to encourage students such as Gornik by bringing in speakers from various law-related fields, performing mock trial simulations and taking them to workshops facilitated by law school students and professors.
"While it is certainly a challenge creating a brand-new course, the engagement and enthusiasm our students have shown for these classes make us extremely excited about the prospects of the pathway moving forward," Saken said.
To get involvedTo join District 214's Career Pathways effort as an internship host, career mentor or classroom speaker, contact Barb Kain in the Teaching and Learning Department, firstname.lastname@example.org. To support the program financially through a sponsorship, early career credentials or college credits for students, naming or other contribution, contact Erin Brooks with the District 214 Education Foundation, email@example.com.